One of the most important hires to get right for a B2B company is your marketing manager. Sadly, I’ve seen a number of companies blow it, and the consequences aren’t pretty.
Hiring the wrong person can hurt your business big time, and set you back financially and operationally. And it’s alarmingly easy to do: there are lots of marketers out there who look fantastic on paper, who can really rock a job interview, but end up being a bad fit. When that happens, your top line takes a beating—twice. Not only are you out that person’s salary and the resources it took to find them, but also the revenue they could have generated if they were actually effective in the role.
Before you start interviewing candidates, take a look at the four biggest hiring mistakes that B2B companies make when looking for a marketing manager—and questions you can ask during interviews to help you avoid them.
Hiring a Major League player for your Triple A team
Landing someone with plenty of marketing experience at a big company sounds like a very smart move, right? Although it can work out in your favour, bringing on someone from the wrong “league” can be a mistake if they can’t adapt to the very different role they would play with a smaller organization.
In most B2B companies, the marketing manager has to roll up his or her sleeves and do a lot of the work. These managers won’t have agencies and underlings to do the work for them. Someone senior from a very large company may end up being more of a manager than a hands-on marketer, which is something you probably want to avoid. An effective B2B marketer has to know how to do things, but being willing to do them is just as important.
So how do you figure out if that big-league catch will be a team player? Ask them about the marketing budget they handled in their last role. It will help you understand what level they’re working at. Ask pointed questions about specific deliverables they were personally responsible for. Find out how many people reported to them, and who they reported to. What did they delegate, and what did they do themselves? Ask them how they think the role with your B2B company will differ from their previous position—and if they don’t know, tell them.
“Saving money” by hiring someone too junior
That hungry junior may be bright and enthusiastic and seem like a bargain. But a marketing manager should have established the skills and knowledge to direct your company’s marketing efforts. Assess experience by asking about past marketing budgets, variety of experience and whether they’ve ever led a marketing effort.
If you want to hire a junior along with someone more senior, I say go for it. But many small B2B companies only have one person in the marketing role. And entrusting something as important as your marketing, along with the tens of thousands of dollars you’ll spend to promote your company, to someone without proven skills is a mistake. Guaranteed.
Focusing on industry experience instead of adaptability
In an ideal world, you’ll find someone with the perfect mix of marketing skills and knowledge of your specific industry. But when you work in a niche industry, that combination is rare. A good marketer won’t necessarily know everything about your sector coming in, but they will have the ability and desire to figure it out. Every B2B company is different, and has unique segments and target markets to deal with; a good marketing manager must be keen to learn.
So how do you measure adaptability and interest? Ask them what they know about your industry. The good ones will have done their research. Find out if they have any ideas for marketing your particular products or services. It will show that they have enough interest to have done some thinking already, and indicate whether they can effectively adapt what they’ve learned in past roles to your needs.
What the potential asks you is as important as what you ask them. Look for questions about the nature of your target market, and a genuine desire to speak to customers, go on sales calls and generally immerse themselves. Figuring out the market is the first step to a successful marketing strategy and tactical plan.
Hiring a one-trick pony
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen companies make is hiring a marketing manager who has succeeded in the past using a particular tool set, and who continues to use it even when it’s no longer relevant. If a marketer uses only those tactics that have worked in the past, you’re sacrificing your ability to effectively reach your audience. You need to hire someone with the experience to recognize whether they should be doing webinars or trade shows, advertising or PR—or some other combination of tactics that will reach your audience and truly engage them.
Find out about the tools and tactics your candidate has used in the past year to see what they’ve been learning, what new skills they’ve acquired and what new technologies they’ve adopted. Marketing is changing dramatically. New tools are emerging, and the way your target market connects with you is always evolving. A successful marketing manager must demonstrate an appetite to move with the times. They can’t rely on stuff they did three years ago—they have to have their finger on the pulse of marketing innovation.
Hiring a marketing manager is a big investment. With the costs involved in recruitment, orientation and marketing planning, not to mention the budget the marketer is responsible for, bringing on the wrong person is a mistake most B2B companies can’t afford to make. But if you go into the process armed with information and the right questions to ask, you won’t have to try a whole bunch of candidates before you find the right one. You’ll find the right fit the first time.
Lisa Shepherd is author of Market Smart: How to Gain Customers and Increase Profits with B2B Marketing and president of The Mezzanine Group, a business-to-business strategy and marketing company based in Toronto. She was the youngest female CEO of a PROFIT 200 company in 2007 and 2008 and is a frequent public speaker on B2B marketing strategy and execution.
More columns by Lisa Shepherd