January 2021
How to hire a data geek…even if you don’t know much about data

How to hire a data geek…even if you don’t know much about data

Data is the new black, at least when it comes to marketing. But while there’s general agreement data is a competitive advantage in B2B marketing, its power is still largely untapped. Forrester Research put spending on marketing technology at $96 billion in 2018 and predicts it will top $122 billion by 2022. So, if it’s not lack of investment that’s holding us back, what is it?

As marketers, we collect data at various touch points to better understand their audiences, interpret data to predict future behaviors, and crunch data to make real-time marketing decisions. But as the importance of data increases, a growing number of marketing execs find themselves in the precarious position of hiring a data guru to join their team – whether the title is data scientist, data analyst or a hybrid of the two.

Precarious because the data geek is a cat who’s well-versed in a different language than most marketers. And it can be hard to ask the right questions to get the right answers – and the right person for your marketing team – if data isn’t your strong suit.

So, what’s a chief marketing officer to do when it comes to hiring the right talent for the job? How does a non-data type – perhaps such as yourself – go about hiring someone more of the analytical ilk?

Get the job description right

Start by identifying why you need to hire a data specialist, then build the job description from there. Define the job succinctly by including the type of person you want, objectives for the position, and the problems you expect this hire to fix. As we all know, the big problem in many job descriptions is lack of clarity.

“Job descriptions are typically accomplished by checking things off a list, which means they are poorly designed,” says Dr. Flint McGlaughlin, managing director/CEO of MECLABS Institute. “The reality is, if you hire someone into a vague role with a vague definition of the problem, you’ll get a vague result.”

Consider these questions:

  • What are our objectives in hiring someone with data experience?
  • What kind of person can solve the problems we have?
  • What training should this person possess?
  • What tools should they be familiar with?
  • Where do I find myself a data geek?

If unsure where to start, ask marketing colleagues who’ve hired data specialists for help. You can even say, “I’m not trying to hire, I’m trying to get my job description right, and I need to talk to somebody who knows what they’re doing,” says McGlaughlin.

Look for a left-brained bent with a right-brained hint

It’s not enough for your data specialist to know how to analyze data and build reports: it’s essential they understand marketing contexts in order to tie the two together for results.

Inherent traits to becoming a data analyst for marketing go beyond crunching numbers and looking for patterns – include friendliness and the ability to collaborate with a team are also critical traits.

“They can’t simply pull reports and then go sit off by themselves,” says Debra Cramer, vice president of Marketing for Comcast. “They must partner with the team and want to be part of something larger than just the data.”

Vishal Patell, senior vice president, Marketing & Strategic Planning at CHEP, concurs.

“When hiring a data person for marketing, look not only for an intellectual powerhouse with a passion for marketing, look for creativity, too,” he said. “Don’t just show me the data – understand the context of the business, too.”

At Comcast, the data analytics team falls under the Shared Services umbrella, which Cramer thinks is a plus. “They don’t get to sit behind one leader,” she says, “so they’re forced to have relationships with other departments, including a direct relationship with us.”

Two data geeks could be better than one

Whether you’re recruiting a data scientist or a data analyst, try not to get hung up on nomenclature.

“The word scientist is used loosely in the industry, so don’t be overly impressed by it,” says MECLABS’ McGlaughlin. “Look more for experience.”

In fact, depending on the size of your organization and budget, you might consider a two-hire strategy.

“The first hire is someone with deeper experience, and the second hire is someone who is less experienced but highly motivated, who’s aggressive, high-energy and has an inclination for solving problems,” he said. “The combination is not one plus one equals two; it’s one plus one equals five.”

Another option would be to contract with a data guru before hiring, which allows you to experience this person in action.

Regardless of how you go about hiring a data analyst or data scientist for your B2B marketing team, start looking now and be prepared to work at it. These folks are in high demand – data marketing has been deemed “the sexiest job of the 21st century.”

Which seamlessly segways to a final thought from Patel: “Passion for the job matters more than a degree.”



When you work with Arketi Group, you collaborate with expert marketers, writers, designers and strategists to create transformative marketing programs that deliver real business value.

Let’s get started.