Marketing can help SMEs recruit and retain employees. Here’s how

By Ryan Williams and Binh An Nguyen | 4 min read | Marketing can help SMEs recruit and retain employees. Here’s how. 

Binh An Nguyen, CEO and Founder of Market Ease, and Ryan Williams, Playford Professor of Business Growth, share insights about marketing to recruit and retain employees.

Organisations worldwide are struggling with recruitment and retention. The global skills shortage, the pandemic and the people re-evaluating what matters to them have made it harder than ever to secure and retain talent. In Australia, the ever-evolving government policy on foreign worker visas is an added complication, especially for SMEs that have far fewer resources to play with.

Every challenge creates opportunity. And the obstacles in the talent race present a great opportunity for companies to review their procedures for hiring, supporting and retaining talent. Old operating procedures often fall short in the face of new problems. But conducting internal reviews can help companies adopt new, game-changing practices.

Bringing human resources and marketing together

Many human resources (HR) functions developed out of a systems and transactional perspective. One of the difficulties today is that recruitment is often template driven. Typically utilising job boards or sites, and LinkedIn campaigns. Instead of leveraging more inventive ways to pitch out mission critical roles there is a significant opportunity for SMEs to engage their marketing skills and agility to create a competitive recruitment advantage.

HR and marketing are typically separate departments. Yet these two functions have substantial synergies. Recruitment is a two-way street. While interviewees put their best foot forward in explaining why they might be a good fit, companies increasingly also need to demonstrate why talent should want to call that company home.

By making the HR recruitment function more marketing centric, SMEs can clearly communicate the company’s mission, what the culture is like and attitudes to support systems. When there is clear communication between employer and employee, there are less disappointments, mismanaged expectations and “culture shocks”.

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Applying basic marketing principles

Where should an SME start when thinking about how to incorporate marketing principles in its recruitment effort?

1. Your perfect candidate 

Think hard about who an ideal “customer” (the potential recruit) is. Just as marketing creates buyer personas which describe the perfect customer, HR can create candidate personas.

Prospective recruits may not only be new graduates or current position-holders within the same industry. They might be people pivoting their careers or looking for opportunities in different industries or parents returning from work. Even more senior people wanting to downsize or job share. In a highly competitive talent market it is critical to have a much more open mind.

2. Promoting company strengths

As recruitment is no longer solely about a candidate selling themself to an organisation, companies selling themselves to potential candidates should consider employer branding. What are the strengths of the company when it comes to managing people? What are the career opportunities on offer?

People are no longer just looking for high pay, but also non-monetary value in the role and meaning in their employment. SMEs must figure out why someone would specifically want to work for your organisation. If you can’t think of a clear reason, and you’re struggling to retain existing staff, there’s likely something that needs fixing internally. If you can’t compete with larger peers on salary, can you offer more training? More flexibility? More work-life balance?

3. Location, location, location

Marketing tends to think carefully and strategically about where to place messages, which geographies the customer is in and so on. HR could apply a similar level of ‘target thinking’. Are LinkedIn and Seek the most effective channels? Promoting an ad to maximise engagement and persuasion is critical. This means leveraging digital tools such as social media to increase the possibility of the right “eyeballs” seeing your messages.

The best potential employees also do extensive due diligence and online research when applying for a job. They want to learn more about future employers before committing. Most companies that are disproportionately successful at recruitment have a career section on their website. They promote and amplify this through social media. Talk about their values, the company, the perks of working there as well as company purpose and culture. Work hard to remove friction to give those interested an easy means of reaching out.

Retention of employees: Adopting an SaaS marketing mindset

When it comes to retaining employees, HR can consider the software-as-a-service (SaaS) approach of subscription-based models.

John Warrillow, in his book The Automatic Customer, observes how, for any subscription-based business model, the first 90 days are critical in retention. If a customer is happy for 90 days with a product or service, they will usually stick around.

The same can be applied to employees. The first days are the most important for delivering a great employee experience. If people feel valued, if there’s a sense of accomplishment, recognition and purpose, they’re much more likely to stay. The key here is to proactively create that experience instead of waiting for everything to sort itself out.

Kathryn Minshew from career site The Muse coined the term “shift shock”. It describes the shock that employees go through when they start a new job. Then quickly realise that the position is very different from what they have been led to believe. A survey conducted on Gen Z and Millennial candidates demonstrated that 41% would quit a new job within the first two months if they experienced “shift shock”.

In today’s fiercely competitive market for talent, failing to deliver on promises is not a risk that any organisation can take. SMEs must learn how to communicate well with employees. Lean into marketing principles to create advantage. And adopt a proactive approach in supporting and looking after their talent for both recruitment and retention.

Original article published in SmartCompany

Want to read more from this author? Try ‘How SMEs can ride the post Covid e-commerce learning curve