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How to Retain Your Top Marketing Talent: 6 Lessons We Learned the Hard Way

How to Retain Your Top Marketing Talent: 6 Lessons We Learned the Hard Way Blog Feature

Natalie Davis

VP of Talent & Admin, Co-Creator of IMPACT's Core Values, Vision, and Culture Code

February 28th, 2017 min read

A little over a month ago I wrote an article about the qualities to look for in your next marketing hire - but what if youve already got your dream team?

Once you have the ideal employees on board, you need  to learn some tactics to keep them. So, here I am again with some tips on how to retain those ideal employees at your organization.

Now, before I dive in, I want to be very transparent about our retention history at IMPACT. Back in 2015, we had our highest turnover rate to date.

Between leadership realizing that some people weren’t cut out for IMPACT and other people deciding it wasn’t the place for them, we went months where we lost an employee just about every two weeks.


We knew something was very wrong, and had to take a step back and get things back on track. Our mission for 2016 was to dissect this massive turnover rate, and... well - turn things around.

In doing so, we uncovered some key things that helped to keep the right employees from leaving and, in a positive change of events, we only lost one employee in all of 2016 as she embarked on a new career path.

Through all of these experiences, here’s some of what I’ve learned about how to retain your top marketing talent:

Take Compensation Off the Table

After reading that title you might be thinking, “Of course I’d love to offer the highest salaries, but I don’t have that kind of budget right now”. Luckily, you don’t need to.

For this one I’m going to take a page, or rather a few quotes and guidelines, out of Daniel H. Pink’s book, “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us.”

His perspective on salary is that everyone wants to be paid well, but, eventually a person reaches a point where compensation is no longer an issue, allowing “individuals to mostly forget about compensation and instead focus on the work itself.”

But how does one get to that point?

The book dives into three techniques for getting there:

1. Ensure Internal and External Fairness:

Pink explains, “Internal fairness means paying people commensurate with their colleagues. External fairness means paying people in line with others doing similar work in similar organizations.”

People don’t want to be looking over their shoulder at someone doing the same job and getting paid on completely different levels.

Take  a good look at the salary ranges across your company and some external research to see what other places are doing. I’ve gained  some insight into what’s “competitive”  through a combination of Glassdoor, talking with other agencies, and using a couple salary calculator tools like PayScale or even HubSpot’s Salary Grader.

While it’s not perfect, it narrows down a decent range for positions.

2. Pay More Than Average:

The truth is, you don’t need to be the highest paying company to make people happy, and frankly, for most companies, paying the highest isn’t an option.

After looking into some companies that were paying their employees a little more than the average for their position, the book explains  that even a little went a long way to “attract better talent, reduce turnover, and boost productivity and morale.”

In the long term, simply paying employees slightly more than average actually ended up saving the company a lot of time and money that might have been used on rewards and defending unfairness concerns, and generally, it usually took the compensation issue off the table.

3. If you use Performance Metrics, Make them Wide-Ranging, Relevant, and Hard to Game:

If you’re using performance metrics, are they really focusing on the right things? The things that really make a difference for your team and organization overall?

The key here is to be careful when selecting these metrics, because whatever those are will determine exactly where your employee’s focus will go, or at least attempt to go.  After all, we want our employees to put their focus and energy towards their positions and improving their skills, not their concern with their paycheck.

While we’re not perfect in this area, we’ve done our best to work towards the three tips above. I’d suggest reading the full book if you’re looking for more guidance in this area.

Focus on Transparency - From You and From Them!

At IMPACT, we’re as transparent with the team as possible. Whether the numbers are good or bad, the hiring pipeline is full or dry, or we’re gaining or losing clients, it’s all on the table -- or, more literally, in our all-hands meeting deck.

Every month, we get the whole team together to review exactly where we’re at in terms of goals for the quarter, company updates, and financials in general.

In every survey that we’ve sent out to the team (before and after this meeting), our focus on transparency with all of those topics is always noted under “something we’re doing well right now.”

Speaking of Team Surveys…

Transparency becomes so much more effective when it’s a two-way street.

We can hold all the company meetings that we want, but if we’re not focusing on the most pressing issues, answering employee concerns or questions, or paying attention to happiness levels, the company could be in shambles and the leadership might be oblivious.

We survey our team at least once a quarter. In these surveys, we ask employees the following questions (sometimes more in depth, but this was the most recent one):

  • On a scale of 1-10, how happy are you with your employment at IMPACT?
  • If you didn't give a rating of a 10 above, what would make it a 10?
  • What are we doing really well right now?
  • What could we be doing better?
  • General questions or comments?

Interestingly enough, we actually keep the survey responses anonymous.

While you might be thinking - doesn’t that go against the concept of transparency? Sure, I guess it could, but if we want real honest feedback, we have to realize that no matter how open we are with our team, some people are never going to be comfortable stating the cold hard facts with their name attached. And those are the ones we really need to hear.

Open Up to Remote Working

In the middle of writing this article, I received an email from Glassdoor with the subject line, “20 Companies That Let You Work From Home.”

The truth is, it’s a very popular perk right now. People want it and are willing to switch careers to find a company that will make that happen.

Especially in the inbound marketing world today, a lot of the work can be done remotely, whether partially or full-time. Embracing this idea can be a huge step in not only attracting top talent, but retaining them as well.

Full-Time Remote Working

Over the past year, IMPACT has opened up to remote employees like never before. We’ve realized that although we’d prefer to have local, in-house talent, sometimes, to get the best people, we have to think outside the state.

Not only does this allow us to get the best talent, but it makes those people happy know that they can have this perk in their daily lives and it’s completely accepted at our agency.

Remote Options

When talking about remote working, I don’t just mean full-time remote employees. It’s just as important to give some flexibility to the employees that are local.

Whether it’s to avoid distractions in the office, tend to personal matters, general convenience, or whatever the reasoning may be, providing this option to your employees is something that employees appreciate.

But - Don’t Forget About Face Time Altogether!

Although we embrace remote working, it’s important to note that we also realize the importance of in-person interactions between all of our team members.

We’ve recently blocked out a week at least once a quarter where we encourage all team members to be in the office (and we reimburse remote people to visit). This way the team can get to work side-by-side, and we can plan a variety of team building events throughout the week to strengthen the social bonds throughout the team.

Establish Goals and Provide Autonomy

We struggled for a while at IMPACT with how to establish goals for each member of our team.

When we finally transitioned to an Agile marketing environment, things became much clearer.

As said well in the book “Hacking Marketing” by Scott Brinker:

“Agile marketing, at its heart, is about giving individual marketers and small marketing teams greater ownership of their work and significant latitude in how they achieve their goals. It operates on trust and transparency, more than command and control. It gives marketers at all levels visibility into how their pieces fit into the strategy of the whole. And it gives them the opportunity to contribute to its evolution.”

Though it was a big change and overall investment to set up, implementing an Agile environment and Scrum processes ultimately aligned our team around the same goals and purpose, gave our team expectations for each week, and provided the autonomy that our employees wanted.

Show Them the Future

As I mentioned above, like most other agencies we’ve had our fair share of turnover issues.

After some feedback in exit-interviews and talking with current employees, we realized that some people didn’t see what their future held at IMPACT, so they started to look elsewhere.

Realizing this was a big issue, we made it one of our missions to start building this out.

At the beginning of 2016, right at the end of our big period of employee turnover, we put a strong focus on the following areas:

  • Culture - Not only were people confused about their personal future, but also where the company mission was bringing them. We put a big focus on developing our purpose, core values, ideal customers, and the long term goal of the organization. With this in mind, we focused on retaining people who shared this vision, and those who didn’t realized it wasn’t the place for them. (And we’re ok with that kind of turnover!)
  • Career Options - Realizing that marketing can take someone’s career on a variety of different paths, we started creating different roles and levels of mastery within the organization. This allowed employees to see the options they had in terms of moving up in the organization, at least within the next few years.
  • Hiring Within - Whenever possible, we put a big emphasis on hiring or promoting within the organization as opposed to looking elsewhere to fill new openings. This showed the employees how much we value them and their commitment to the company, and encouraged growth and development.
  • Creating a New Path: The best roles or ways to utilize people’s skills to their full potential isn’t always what we have in place. In realizing this, we’ve created a culture where people are able to take creative liberty in carving out their own path. In all honesty, my role didn’t exist at IMPACT until we developed it during a one-on-one meeting a couple years back.

Even with the work that we’ve done to map out the items above, this is still an ongoing focus that we’ve recently put on our goals for this year. That being said, don’t expect this to be a one-and-done task - it’ll take regular monitoring and improving as your company changes.

Don’t Stop Here

Although we’ve uncovered a few things that have helped with our own retention issues, even we’re still working on it. Make sure to do regular research into your own company.

What have you found that works? I’d love to hear other suggestions in the comments section!

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