Don’t Hire People from Industry for Industry Marketing Roles

I always tell people that you shouldn’t hire industry marketing people from industry.  I usually get a confused look because this seems to conflict with the conventional wisdom for hiring these types of roles.   I’ve heard many a technology CEO state that the answer to all the company’s sales challenges would be solved if they just had someone from industry who could speak the customer’s language.  Then without fail twelve months later there is boardroom discussion about how the $300K/year “industry expert” that was hired isn’t making an impact.  Most executives assume that the recruiting process was mismanaged and the wrong person was hired.  However, the true root cause is that the wrong profile candidate was hired into the wrong role.

I encourage executives to answer three tough questions to assess whether you are hiring the right person for an industry marketing role.

#1 – What is the candidate’s True Skill Set?

Often technology vendors try to hire former customers who worked in the IT organizations they supported.  The challenge with such a hire is that it is difficult to transition a mid-career IT professional into a marketing specialist.  Give some thought to these questions:

  • Would you hire an executive in finance that has no prior accounting or finance skills?
  • Would you hire a corporate counsel that has no law degree or legal experience?
  • Would you hire a sales director that has never held a quota-bearing sales role?

So why hire a marketing executive that has no marketing experience?

Most individuals that entered an IT profession have a stronger aptitude for mathematics and science than writing and creative thinking.  Marketing professionals, particularly industry evangelists, must be able to:

  • Develop differentiated messaging and positioning
  • Write compelling white papers and thought leadership articles
  • Create and deliver powerful presentation content
  • Perform quantitative analysis of new market opportunities 
  • Execute successful lead generation programs

There are lots of people that can perform these functions at a mediocre level of quality, but very few that that excel.  Most candidates from industry underestimate the caliber of skills required to make an impact in an industry marketing role.  Consequently they over-promise during the interview process and under-deliver once on the job.

#2 – Why is the candidate leaving their home industry?

Ideally you are hiring this person because they have extensive contacts, deep subject matter expertise and unique insights on how to solve the industry’s key challenges.  If all of these factors are true then ask yourself why are they leaving the industry?  Very few people spend 15-20 years enjoying a successful career in one industry and then suddenly move into another one.  The fact is that most candidates seeking out jobs as subject matter experts in the technology industry have struggled in their original career field.  Although, I have never seen any statistics, I suspect that most of these mid-life career switchers were actually let go from their previous employers because they were not adding enough value.  Are these the types of under-performers you want to hire for an industry marketing role?  If they were not successful in their chosen career field what are the odds that they will succeed in the technology sector?   Check the candidate’s references to ascertain the true factors behind the decision to transfer into technology.  There are certainly exceptions to the generalizations I outlined above, but in my experience there are very few.

#3 – How broad is the candidate’s knowledge across sub-sectors?

Most people from “industry” actually have a very narrow range of domain knowledge.  This is particularly true of candidates who worked at large companies.  Most of these individuals worked in very specialized organizations with little appreciation of the larger corporate strategy or industry dynamics.  In other words, they cannot see the forest from the trees.  If you are seeking a Retail Industry Marketing Director then you should understand that someone from the Grocery sector will have very limited understanding of the Department Store segment.  If you are seeking to hire a Financial Services Industry Marketing Manager then you should expect that a banker with expertise in mortgage processing will have little to no understanding of the credit card, wealth management or home insurance product lines.  If you are seeking to bring on a High Tech Industry Director then understand that a semiconductor veteran will have limited understanding of the downstream PC or consumer electronics sectors.   Most hiring managers, because they themselves do not appreciate the differences within sub-sectors of an industry, ignore these realities.  Consequently, many companies hiring an expert in one discipline with the expectation that they will easily expand their knowledge to cover multiple sub-sectors.  Such an approach rarely works.

So where should you find good candidates for industry marketing roles?  This is a topic I will explore in a future post.

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