Recently I sat down with the President of a small B2B company about the need to hire a new digital product leader. The role represented a whole new level of leadership in digital product development for this particular business, so making the right cultural fit was mission critical (which is why I spent time on-site learning their culture first-hand, which I do with most of my clients). For companies that are used to just selling and making stuff, the decision to roll out a new product or a new version of an existing product is pretty much business as usual: No big shift in operations needed, no change in the overall business model required. Inject digital into the equation, however- along with the new “journey of the customer” that accompanies it- and suddenly you’re asking bigger questions like, “How will this new role impact other parts of the organization? Will it require a new sales model? Through what channels will it be marketed?  Does this create a new customer journey, and if it does, how do we set up cross-functional teams to accomplish that?”

The issue confronting businesses is fundamental: If you market it digitally, and they come, then what do you do?

That requires a new way of thinking and collaborating, and it’s one of the things I write about a lot. Looking at digital through more traditional lenses is no easy task for organizations whose operations have centered around manufacturing, marketing and selling. Sometimes it even means rewriting the org chart. Case in point: A candidate I recently placed as head of marketing with one such manufacturing company is now running the inside sales team. Not surprisingly, many on the sales team balked at this change, but it was a natural transition, as my candidate explained it to them, to provide a more consistent customer experience across all touchpoints, digital and otherwise. It also helped that my candidate had a more traditional marketing background earlier in his career, including a history of working with sales. He understood how they felt, thought and behaved to help generate the change that was needed.

Like the example above, many of my placed digital candidates, with their strong customer-orientation backgrounds and ability to build bridges across functions, put their stamp on an organization’s culture, sometimes more than anyone else in the organization other than the owner, President or CEO.  I call them cultural “re-engineers”, and in my interviews and intake discussions, I’ve observed three major distinguishing qualities that characterize the ability of these re-engineers to help organizations shift from analog to digital:

– Ability to collaborate effectively with other functional leaders
– Strong relationship builder with the senior most executives
– A true marketing leader who has the charisma to inspire others to make required changes

If part of the job description you’re interviewing for is to go in and promote the digitization of a legacy culture, we all know that can be no easy task. Of course it all starts at the top with the chief executive. But if you’re equipped with the above three skills, and can demonstrate how you’ve applied those skills to affect positive change, that will truly set you apart.

Jerry Bernhart, Principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC, is one of the nation’s preeminent and veteran executive recruiters in ecommerce, digital and multichannel marketing, and CRM. With 80 published LinkedIn articles, Jerry is the “voice” of best practices in the recruitment and hiring of ecommerce and digital marketing professionals. Jerry is also the author of the critically acclaimed book, “Careers in Ecommerce and Digital Marketing,” on Amazon, and participates in many leading digital marketing and ecommerce conferences. Jerry has been recruiting and placing marketing professionals for more than 28 years. Check out Jerry’s other insights on the Thought Leadership section of the Bernhart Associates website.

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