Europe’s a small continent, but with £132 billion in online sales over 2014 it holds the globe’s largest e-commerce market. And it barrels along, with this figure tipped to increase by over 18% as we enter 2016, according to a study by RetailMeNot. 

Performance marketing groups, concerned with the measurable side of promoting items from online stores, have been able to drive this spend forward and with every new office launch, acquisition and strategic focus, look keen to expand.  

While this carries no shortage of challenges, there’s one issue that plays in the background of everything that surrounds the various problems marketers have with targeting, segmentation and data usage: where will they find their staff? 

A team effort 

To use a cliche; success is a team effort, and it is the staff you employ who will carry the brand’s vision forward in foreign markets, not just the product. 

Establishing your company for the long-run in a new country requires not just the relocation of senior management, which you may be able to incentivise – it means sowing the seeds of talent that will help your brand flourish in uncharted territories. 

Finding a candidate that ticks all the boxes in such a ‘niche’ and relatively new industry is of course no small feat, so PerformanceIN spoke to two companies already operating successfully within Europe to find out their approaches to future-proof recruitment. 

The right person 

“I think recognising that you cannot always recruit the perfect person right out of the box is important,” says Bruce Clayton, director at performance marketing agency Optimus. 

Clayton believes in a set of basic building blocks that companies should seek in candidates: numeracy, literacy and common sense. But aside from this, a varied pool of skillsets ensures the company has an understanding at each client ‘touchpoint’. 

This means employing staff who are able to speak with clients at their own level, which often matches any need for industry-specific qualifications. 

“Not all clients have classically-trained marketers running the digital function, so having an account manager who is familiar with business and a retail environment is as important as having a marketing background.” 

In fact, candidates need not have a marketing background at all. Among graduates, placement students and those with work experience, Optimus looks for strong customer-facing skills, an eye for detail and a stellar team ethos. 

The company operates on a number of levels within the account management function, allowing the group to ‘slot people in at the relevant level’ and develop their skills accordingly. 

Finding them 

IT qualifications may have come to the fore in the last decade, but you’ll still be hard pressed to find universities offering degrees in e-commerce, less so ‘performance marketing’.

This has spurred a culture of on-the-job training within the field, with firms taking graduates from non-related degrees, or those unable to keep up with the industry’s rapid evolution. 

“They [candidates] come to us for graduate programmes and stay with us, and we help them build their career,” comments AnneMarie Schwab, RetailMeNot France’s VP and general manager. 

“However, what we also see is that the industry is changing at a very fast level and schools seem to struggle to hold up the pace and to incorporate the latest changes into their programmes.” 

M-commerce in Europe, for example, grew 93% in just 12 months – the academic blink of an eye – while spend on devices is forecasted to approximately double 2014’s total of €23.8 billion, according to RetailMeNot. 

“It’s a new approach to recruiting,” says Schwab, “but the final outcome is very satisfying.”

While this may seem to be a labour intensive approach to recruitment, it’s one that will bear fruit in the long run, with payoff taking the form of lower staff churn and an expanding team of skilled, motivated employees. 

The bigger picture 

While online start-ups in performance marketing are generally less hierarchical and more seamless in structure than many ‘traditional’ businesses, it’s easy for employees to slip into departmental silos, intensifying during periods of transition. 

“When businesses are growing, employees tend to regroup with their peers and fellow team members,” says Schwab. 

“We also see generation changes with the arrival of the so-called Generation Z, who approach their work differently and can be a bit disturbing to more senior staff members.” 

Schwab believes companies who want to encourage larger communication must be transparent, while urging their staff to work towards a global company vision, instead of shooting for individual goalposts. 

“If people get the bigger picture and feel like they’re part of the project, they will communicate more efficiently with other teams,” she says. 

Optimus’s Clayton believes similarly that collaboration is key to developing new markets, ensuring expectations are both ‘realistic and achievable’, and providing staff members with both the ‘remit and resource’ to develop. 

“Additionally – do not overestimate how far you can get with the English language – succeeding in the EU space requires language skills and a consistent approach to understanding the key markets,” he adds. 

“Recognising that things take time and need to be done properly in order to fully succeed is often overlooked in the pursuit of a quick route to market.” 

This feature originally appeared in PerformanceIN’s European Performance Marketing supplement. Click here to download a free copy.