NEXXT Exclusive: Gordon Burnes, CMO of Bullhorn

NEXXT EXCLUSIVE: this month the boys have a chat with Bullhorn's CMO Gordon Burnes about the current state of marketing in the recruitment space on the heels of their annual survey.

Notably, the guys dig into the most popular (and unpopular) strategies being deployed by firms around the world. Spoiler alert: Job boards are in trouble.

Enjoy, and be sure to visit Nexxt ... there's no show without sponsors like them.


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Joel: Hey, boys and girls. It's your boy, Cheese, here with another monthly exclusive sponsored by Nexxt. This month, we're honored to be joined by Gordon Burns, CMO, that's chief marketing officer, at Bullhorn. Gordon, welcome to podcast.

Gordon: Hey. Thanks so much. Good to be here.

Joel: Give us the elevator pitch on you and tell us about Bullhorn, for those who don't know.

Gordon: Yeah, great. I've been at Bullhorn about four years. Came from IBM, where I ran marketing for part of the information management group there. Really excited to be at Bullhorn. We've been growing incredibly quickly over the last four years. We do CRM software plus operations capabilities for staffing firms of all sizes. We like to think that we help companies do everything from candidates all the way through to cash. We operate worldwide. But, most importantly, we're focused on delivering a great customer experience. We've been able to ... had the opportunity to work with a lot of wonderful people and a lot of wonderful companies. It's been a great ride so far.

Joel: What does a typical client look like? Are we talking global? What size? Company names that people might know?

Gordon: It's interesting. We have about 8,000 customers right now, close to 100,000 users. It really spans the entire spectrum, from entrepreneur just starting out, gets out of college and wants to dive into the business, all the way through to Adecco and Manpower and Kelly, some of the largest firms. And we sort of organize our company around these segments because, obviously, larger companies operate very differently and have very different needs from smaller ones. So we really try to meet the needs of our customers, whatever size they are.

Chad: So, Gordon, you would actually put out a marketing survey. Now, coming from Bullhorn. So, first off, I think it's awesome. We get more information with regard to marketing, especially in the staffing arena, but why did you do it? What was the impetus for actually wanting to put together research or a survey like this?

Gordon: Yeah, it's interesting. I think that the marketing in the staffing industry is going through a really big change, and we're sort of at the front end of a big wave that we believe is really going to sweep the industry. And that's going to happen at the organizational level, it's going to happen with technology, it's going to happen with tactics, and it's pretty exciting.

Gordon: If you look around at the evolution of how staffing firms arise, a lot of owner operated businesses grew up super strong on the sales side, but they get to a point where they're really trying to scale programmatically. Like, how do we scale without just knocking on doors, right? And then they say, well, there's this thing called marketing, so they go hire somebody that they knew in college, and this person does a little advertising, and it doesn't really work, and so they're sort of stuck, right?

Gordon: So I think a lot of owners, owner operators are saying, hey, what do I really need to do to scale this business, and marketing's probably a really important component of growing the business in the long run, so what do I need to do?

Chad: Right. Right, right, right. So in the actual survey itself, and just going top line, it actually said "87% of global staffing and recruiting firms do not have a CMO." No love.

Gordon: Yeah.

Chad: So who is in charge of marketing, or are they just not doing marketing at all? I mean, that doesn't make any sense to me.

Gordon: Yeah, no, it's really interesting. I think all firms are doing marketing for sure, and I think what that statistic points out is the relative importance that most firms put on marketing. Marketing is sort of like an afterthought, and so the chief marketing officer, or the person who is in charge of marketing at the firm typically does not have a seat at the executive table.

Gordon: In terms of how do we really grow and expand, and how do we manage our customers, the marketing voice is sort of secondary, and I think, in a lot of cases, it's really relegated to, "Hey, can you go place some ads on that job board over there" versus what is the strategic way we can deploy our marketing dollars to grow fastest?" Those are two totally different things. One is just really tactically ... You just go and hire your friend out of college to go place ads on a job board. The other is a really complicated question to answer. Where do I put my marginal dollar of investment to grow the firm?

Gordon: To answer that question is very hard. You've got to have a lot of data. You've got to have a lot of information. You have to have done a lot of tests around different channels, but if you want to spend your money correctly, you've got to make the investment to answer that question.

Chad: Well, for staffing firms, it's really two sided though, right? Because you're trying to grow the business line, so you're trying to gain more clients, but also you have a marketing aspect where you're trying to help focus on the candidate side, too, right? Or is that something you guys really don't touch on?

Gordon: No, absolutely. Totally, and that just sort of increases the complexity. But, you know, in this environment, the challenges are really weighted on the candidate side, right? We're essentially a full employment. We've got the job mix that a lot of the clients is changing, so you need to find different kinds of skill sets. I think, for the most part, the 60% to 70% of the challenge on the marketing side is really about figuring out the candidate side of the equation versus the client side.

Joel: Gordon, I'm curious about some historical perspective from the survey, which doesn't quite come out in the executive summary. Assuming that you've done this survey a few times over the years, 80% is a very bad number in terms of embracing marketing, but what, historically, do you see ... Are staffing companies embracing marketing more, or is this number going down over time?

Gordon: Yeah. So this is the first year we did a formal survey. We have, over time, started to notice that more and more companies are placing VPs of Marketing in CMOs, and so this year we said, hey, look, we really have to go get some real quantifiable data to understand how this is changing. Going forward, we'll definitely measure it, but as we interact with our customers and our prospects, we're starting to see the CMO be a larger voice in the conversation about how to run the business, and it's because of this question of scale and allocating dollars more effectively.

Gordon: And it's also, I think ... There's another component, which is there's a lot more technology out there to allow you to do different things that companies are sort of questioning, and do you really need somebody to say, hey, look, we want to put in a chat bot, or we want to put in marketing automation, or we want to put in dialogue management or whatever it is, and to have someone who can really do that effectively.

Joel: So a few of the metrics really stuck out to me, but I think the one that really sort of surprised me in going back historically ... Job boards talk a lot about "We're not dead," "We're as good as we've ever been," or "We're healthy," and the fact that your survey had that only 50% use job boards really shocked me. What do you think about that number?

Gordon: Well, I think what's happened is that there is a whole new set of channels to get to the candidate that didn't exist ten years ago, that you now have the whole email channel. You have social channels. You have pay-per-click. A lot of people are doing texting now, right? So I think it's more that there's just a proliferation of tactics that are available to go reach candidates, and also clients as well. And so I think in the old world, you probably had single channel marketing really, and now it's really about multichannel marketing.