If the candidate senses online is an afterthought [to the hiring company], then they are not going to work there. It’s essential the company sees ecommerce as a pie-enlarging value proposition, not just a pie-rearranging proposition. Because at the end of the day, "A" players want to go where they are going to matter.
-- Harry Joiner
Harry Joiner runs a specialized recruiting firm which focuses on filling online marketing executive slots.
In this podcast, Harry shares his insights on hiring top-notch online talent, as well as how he uses online marketing techniques himself to grow his business.
Alan Rimm-Kaufman: I'm honored to speaking with Harry Joiner of Marketing Headhunter.com. Can you tell me what you do, Harry?
Alan: So you help e-commerce firms place senior executives, junior executives?
Harry: I do indeed. I handle VP level searches and director/manager level searches for a variety of reasons. But to use a baseball analogy, it's kind of like the manager and director level searches are the singles and the doubles. And three or four times a year, there's an opportunity to hit home runs there with VP level searches, so it's a mixed bag.
Alan: I was reading some of your stuff online, and in 1997, you were trading frozen food. How did you move from trading in beef to helping people find jobs?
Harry: I am a glutton for punishment. I worked for my dad's company. My dad owns a commodity trading company called AJC International in Atlanta, Georgia. And it's not a small business. They've got half a dozen foreign offices and this year they'll do $800 million in sales. It's the tenth largest privately held company in the state of Georgia.
So after I graduated from business school, I went to work for my dad's company for about seven years, and wound up working for their domestic distribution subsidiary in Chattanooga, Tennessee. While I was working up there, I had an opportunity to go into business as a marketing consultant, which appealed to me greatly.
Long story short, while I was engaged on a marketing consulting assignment for a local, interim CFO company that wanted to get into the staffing business, I discovered the recruiting and staffing business. I made them a bunch of money and had a moment of clarity about what I should be doing, so I just decided that I liked recruiting and the money was good and I would just stay doing it.
Alan: That's interesting. You bring up your background in marketing. One of the things that I think is so cool about your recruiting practice is how heavily you use web marketing yourself. So you're trying fill positions in web marketing, and you yourself are doing a tremendous amount of web marketing. Can you tell us how you use blogging and RSS and email, the social networks and so forth to grow your own practice?
Harry: Yes. That to me is actually like the luckiest break that I ever got, I think, in my entire career. The first search that I got when I went into business as a recruiter was for director of online retail for a company called Benchmark Brands in Atlanta.
Harry: They run a website called Footsmart. It's an Internet Retailer top 100 company, I think. So, I started calling around to Shop.org and DMA communities and networking with people. I knew how to speak the language of direct to consumer marketing and I think that was a little bit refreshing to them. We just started chatting about what do you do and how do you do it and do you postcard market, what's the role of organic and paid search in the growth of your online business and all of these different things.
I just started cherry picking ideas that I thought were applicable for a recruiting business and bolting those tactics on to my own little marketing plan. For example, I've got a really good friend named So Young Park, who's the Director of Online Marketing and CRM for Musician's Friend up in Medford, Oregon.
My blog used to be called Proven Ways to Get New Customers. It was really essentially a throwback to my days as a marketing consultant. It was like a small business marketing blog. The content was good, but it wasn't really germane to online retail. One day I was chatting with So Young and I said, "I'd really like to improve the traffic on my blog, you know. Do you have any ways that I could do that?" And she said, "Well, you could always change the name." And I said, "To what?" And she said, "Well, what do you do?"
I said, "Well, I'm a marketing headhunter." And she said, "Well, why don't you just call it Marketing Headhunter?" And I said, "Well, that's not really very exciting to me." And she said, "Well, here's the thing." She said, "If you call your blog whatever it is you do and people back link to you as that thing, then when other people who need your services Google marketing headhunter and there are a bunch of sites on the internet that back link to you as that, then you become the nexus of all things marketing headhunter on the internet. Does that make sense?"
Alan: It does. So Young is a smart woman.
Harry: She is unbelievable. She said, do yourself a favor, right now, type marketing headhunter into a browser bar. And I did and I went to a website called Buy Domains.com and it was available. It was not cheap, but it was available. And she said, buy it. I said, it looks like it costs a lot of money. And she said, well, how much money do you make per search? And I said, 20% of somebody's annual salary. And she said, the value that a domain like that will create for you over time, you know, what you would pay for it today is lost in the rounding of that number. So she said, just as a customer acquisition thing and as a branding thing, it will credibleize you in ways that you can't possibly imagine. She said, you have got to go for it.
And I did and it worked like a charm. I talked to hundreds of really smart people, but based on that one little thing, I was able to take that concept and I bought Management Recruiter.com. I bought SEM Recruiter.com. I bought Search Engine Experts.com. I own Ecommerce Consulting.com.
I have got about 650 domains in my GoDaddy account and I get an extraordinary amount of traffic just as a result of the blogs that I have that are hosted on top of those keyword rich domains. So it works like a charm.
Alan: You mentioned domains, not to be confused with domaining, because you're not trying to sell advertising, and so you're actually using them to generate traffic for yourself, correct?
Harry: Yes. Some of the domains that I've had, worked better than others. The national domains that I've had worked great. For example, if you use the Aaron Wall's SEO toolbar for Firefox, which is a lethal weapon for any of your listeners who may use that. It will tell you, I guess in connection with Google AdWords, what the keyword count is or what the search count is on a per diem basis.
So, for example, Management Recruiter, I think gets between 50 and 80 inquiries a day on Google, right? And so my blog, Management Recruiter.com is currently ranked second in the organics because of all the people that back link to it. So I mean the national domains, the ones that aren't localized, like I own Executive Search Atlanta.com. That doesn't work very well.
I own Executive Search Chicago, Executive Search New York, Executive Search, you know, a bunch of different cities. Those don't work very well because of the way Google is presenting local search results. But the national ones, the way Google presents those results, the strategy works like a charm, which is lucky for me.
Alan: Can you share a little bit more about your blogging strategy?
Harry: Well, you know, here is the thing. Blogging is a means to an end. It's not an end unto itself. So for me, blogging is not like a vanity thing. I don't do it to express myself. I do it to get traction in search engines. And the thing of it is, when I blog at Marketing Headhunter.com. I have an editorial platform for that. I have a list, at least in my head, of things that I will blog about and things that I won't blog about.
I won't blog about my cat. I won't blog about the weather, all those college football scores. But I will blog about ecommerce, about marketing, digital media, careers, and the slings and arrows of growing and developing a career in ecommerce. All that stuff I will write about.
According to, I think, Quadcast or Compete.com, 90% of my traffic right now is coming from search engines. So it's what Quadcast calls passersby. So the trick with me is I don't post that often, but what I do post is keyword rich, number one. I have what I hope is a teachable point of view on marketing and ecommerce and careers in those areas, and I produce stuff that people are gonna back link to. And because of that, I get a lot of traction in search engines.
Alan: Moving off the marketing and over to the recruiting, what are the positions, the level, the titles, the skillsets? What's in the most demand today that you see?
Harry Joiner: I would say probably directors and managers, and the reason I would say that is this; It occurred to me about a year ago that there are 500 companies in the internet retailer top 500, right?
Alan: So 500 VP's of ecommerce.
Harry: Yes. Some of those brands are so small that they don't have a VP person there that's a director, but for all intents and purposes, let's just call it 500 VP's of online retail that matter in the United States.
Harry: And let's say, I'm going to use round numbers that the average tenure as a VP of ecommerce is somewhere between two and three years, right? So you divide 500 by 2.5, and what you see there is that every year a certain number of chairs become available.
Harry: And that's not really enough to sustain the executive search activity for my industry, right? I'm just one recruiter out of hundreds out there that are trying to weasel into this space.
Harry: So what it amounts to is that I probably get ten VP level searches a year, let's be conservative, between eight and ten VP searches a year. Of those eight, I'll probably close four. To pay the rest of the bills, I've gotta do manager and director level searches, and there's a lot of satisfaction in those for me. And there's a lot of demand in there for those as well.
Alan: What are the tips that you give to companies looking to hire ecommerce talent?
Harry: Well, I would say the first thing is understand that the best candidates are very business oriented. And they want to see the online channel as a means to an end, not an end unto itself, right? So the end that I'm talking about is greater customer intimacy.
So if the candidate gets a sense that the online channel is just an afterthought then they are not going to work there. Because at the end of the day "A" players want to go where they are going to matter.
So it's essential that the online channel really matter to the company and that they embrace it, that internally everybody is onboard with online and that they completely embrace it and want to see it succeed; and sees ecommerce as potentially a pie enlarging value proposition for the company, not just a pie rearranging composition for the company. Does that make sense?
Alan: It does. It's interesting to hear you say lead off with meaning and strategic importance rather than cash and personal advancement. I am assuming the comp and all that needs to be in line, but I find it very, very interesting that the first thing you cite is importance to the organization.
Harry: Well, the model that I use with every candidate is; think of your career in terms of the three F's? Fun, future, and finance. Fun is a completely arbitrary and subjective thing. The financial piece is the only part of this that we can actually quantify, so now we got to really concentrate on the future orientation or the future attractiveness and relevance of the role.
And I encourage every candidate that I work with to really get their arms around that and understand whether or not the client that they are interviewing with is sincerely interested in being an online retailer or developing greater customer intimacy using the online channel to support its other channels and also as a standalone or whether or not they're just talking about it. There's a very high 'full of crap' factor among companies that are streaming into this space.
Alan: Great perspective. I'm sure you've seen a lot of companies intend to hire great people, but botch it. Besides what you just shared with us about the sincerity of their commitment to the channel, what should companies be certain not to do to be sure they don't drive away good folks?
Harry: If I could give one solid tip is have a hiring process and keep the process moving. The analogies that I used is at the end of the day I'm an elephant hunter, right? And I know where the elephants hang out, I know the elephants, I love the elephants. The elephants are awesome. And elephants like to be shot dead or left alone.
Alan: And the elephant's the candidate or the company?
Harry: Yes, the elephant is the candidate. And they like to be shot dead and bagged or left alone, right?
Alan: Got it, yes.
Harry: And what they would not abide, Alan, is 120 day hiring process that's like a big budget movie with a plot that goes nowhere. They don't have the time for it. It's frustrating too because the other thing you got to consider is that every single executive search is a zero sum game.
So if I run an executive search for William Sonoma. William Sonoma is a big client of mine and I've helped them find a VP of ecommerce last year and have done some director level searches successfully for them in the interim.
It's kind of like they've really got to have their act together and they have got to help the candidates maintain their dignity in the process because there's only one VP role that they're hiring for. And so let's say I source four or five really great candidates for them. Well, they are only going to hire one and that means that everybody else goes home with a t-shirt.
Well, that's a problem in my business because if the people go home with a t-shirt and a bad taste in their mouth, then they're not going to like William Sonoma and they're probably not going to like me. So it's absolutely critical that I help people maintain their self-esteem and treat everybody with a tremendous amount of dignity because everybody's got a lot to offer. Everybody could conceivably solve William Sonoma's online problems in a variety of different ways.
It's just a question of which candidate has the relevant skill set and the best chemistry and who can contribute something lasting and meaningful to William Sonoma's existing management mix. And the candidates that can not quite do that this year need to be treated with dignity so that they can respectfully consider the company for future opportunities.
Alan: Good stuff. If a company can not make a hiring decision with internet speed, they may not be moving their business on the line, making online decisions with internet speed as well.
Harry: Yeah, that's my opinion.
Alan: You see a lot of online retailing. You have a very interesting perspective having placed senior executives into some of the major firms in this space. And I think a lot of us would concur the economy is tough and might even be worsening before it gets better.
If you were asked to give your opinions to leaders of ecommerce companies, what are your suggestions for the rest of the year with the economic storm clouds brewing?
Harry: Well, I would say take a good hard look at your business and try and figure out at a high level, right, back of the envelope type stuff, whether or not your business is going to survive predicated on option A, cross-selling and upselling your current customers, or option B, acquiring new customers, right? So figure out, you know, it's kind of a Sophie's choice kind of deal there.
Pick one of those things to be awesome at and then try and staff around that and try and motivate and measure around those things because, you know, for instance, I prefer trying to figure out frankly how to cross-sell and upsell current customers just because customer acquisition in this space is getting to be all about search engines.
And I talk to a number of different VP's of ecommerce and they all kind of say that Google is a really cruel mistress. You can't control it. All you can do is just try and deal with it. And so my take on this is pick one of those strategies and try and bear down as hard as you can on that artifact and just be great at it.
Alan: Great stuff. Thank you so much for your time, Harry. If folks want to find you online, what's the best way to reach you?