How to Formulate and Deliver a Career Product: What HR Professionals Can Learn From Marketers

Today's human resources department must attract and retain a talented workforce. Filling the talent gap requires organizations to craft and deliver a career product, that is, a value proposition that is attractive to today's career professional.

This is not an easy task. The demand for talent is far outstripping supply in the United States, China, India, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia and Latin America. In short, today's reality is: Too many companies chasing too few talented professional, managerial and technical workers.

We believe that the field of marketing offers human resources professionals the required framework for designing, developing, implementing and measuring the success of their talent acquisition programs.

Marketing: The Science of Creating and Keeping Customers

There is much confusion about the term "marketing." What we think of today as "the marketing concept" comes from Peter Drucker, who stated (with typical incisive insight), "There is only one valid definition of business purpose: Create a customer."

Drucker concluded:

"In the event marketing were done perfectly, selling would become redundant. Indeed, selling and marketing are antithetical rather than synonymous or even complimentary... There will always, one can assume, be a need for selling...

...But the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits [the customer] and sells itself. Ideally, marketing should result in a customer who is ready to buy. All that should be needed then is to make the product or service available."

What Was Drucker Really Saying?

Selling is communication. Selling is just a component of the marketing proposition. If you’ve got what potential customers want, need, expect, value and are willing to pay for, selling is easy.

A new drug that cures a specific disease needs little selling. The appropriate target audience will instantly respond when told about potential benefits and risks.

Marketing is, therefore, more than delivering the message. Among other things, it's creating the product/service and then communicating to the target audience that the product/service is available.

But what are the most important components of marketing? The most important tasks in marketing have to do with studying the market, segmenting it, targeting the groups you want to service and creating a total customer-getting and customer-keeping proposition.

Advertising and selling are afterthoughts! Remember Drucker’s message: The aim of marketing is to make selling unnecessary. Finding needs and filling them in a way that meets and exceeds customers’ expectations is what marketing is all about.

Quick Review of Marketing Fundamentals

A "tangible product" is the physical product or service that is offered to the customer. It is what is immediately recognized as the "thing" being sold. Computers, learning programs, steel reinforcing bars, software and office furniture are all tangible products.

The "augmented product" is a tangible product coupled with a whole cluster of services that people value. For example, the augmented product of IBM for many years was not only the computer, but a whole set of accompanying services, including training, off-the-shelf software programs, contract programs, maintenance and repairs, guarantees and the like.

IBM’s outstanding position in the computer industry was due, in large part, to its early recognition that the customer wants, needs, expects and is willing to pay for these "extras" when purchasing or leasing a computer. The total customer-getting and customer-keeping proposition equates to the augmented product/service concept.

Good marketing calls for asking and systematically answering two Drucker questions: 1) Who is the customer? and 2) What is value to the customer? How a given product or service is augmented is determined by the answers to these questions.

Strategy Precedes Structure in Marketing a Career Product

The Drucker questions enable the selection of a product strategy. An organization must not only have a winning product strategy to pursue, but also a matching structure to facilitate its implementation. So to must human resources departments.

Strategy precedes structure. Much time must be devoted to creating a viable organizational structure to administer the selected augmented product strategy. Time must also be devoted to creating a human resources department structure that can support a career product strategy.

Marketing also requires the development of an organizational infrastructure capable of delivering what the total value proposition promises. Every element of the value proposition must be converted into a key activity.

These key activities become the building blocks of the internal organization. Key activities are assigned to groups and individuals who are responsible for their delivery.

Work assignments, deadlines for performance and budgets must be prepared to enable key activities to be carried out. Without resources for their execution, key activities will remain a good intention.

Augmenting Your Organization's Career Product

How can marketing thinking be applied to developing and implementing a career product? Every human resources organization must ask the two Drucker questions, namely:

  • Who is the career customer?
  • What does the career customer value?

What is your organization's total value proposition to prospective and existing employees? Take, for example, training and development and continuous learning. Today's career professional demands these two "value-adding" benefits. They should be part of the total career customer getting and career customer keeping process.

But many organizations do not keep their promises to employees with respect to their career product. Why? Because they do not convert career customer-getting benefits into major key activities—and they fail to develop the appropriate organizational structure to deliver the promised career product.

Many surveys indicate that fast-track employees are not satisfied with the training and development and continuous learning activities offered by their organizations. Without doubt, it was part of the "selling proposition" of job recruiters. Eventually, this dissatisfaction will result in a higher turnover rate.

The human resources department of every organization must formulate a career product. And then decide how to effectively deliver what the total career product proposition promises.

A strategic talent acquisition or talent management strategy should provide answers to two basic questions: What to do and how to do it. The first question refers to the design of a career product strategy that attracts first-class job candidates.

A human resources organization must have not only a winning career product strategy to pursue, but also a matching organizational structure to facilitate its implementation.

More Drucker Insights for Human Resources Marketing

More than 20 years ago, Drucker discussed the need for human resources to focus on organizational structure and the design of professional, managerial and technical jobs to satisfy the needs, expectations and aspirations of the emerging "career customer."

It's quite evident that the market for jobs and careers has become a genuine mass-market capable of being segmented in a variety of ways. Every organization, therefore, needs to design a "career product " that will attract and satisfy today's career customer segment by segment.

The career customer, even in this recession, has increasingly become a demanding customer. According to Drucker: "Like the customer, who, in a healthy economy, always wants more and different goods and services for his money, the career customer always want something better and different from the job..."

Only a few short years ago, Drucker noted, a job candidate expected a living but now expects a career and an opportunity to make a contribution. At the same time he or she looks increasingly for a chance to put knowledge to work.

Many other concepts developed for the discipline of marketing have been translated into very specific methodologies. These involve product-positioning strategies, positioning multiple brands, repositioning strategies, market-geographic strategies and more.