Pop music through the ages has remained relevant through outside influences, Paul Simon wrote his classic, Grammy Award-winning album Graceland after becoming fascinated by a bootleg cassette of South African township music. In this article, Dennis Shiao suggests that for us to stay fresh, we too need to look outside…


Time to call it like it is.

When it comes to recruiting and hiring, marketing leaders and marketing managers are risk-averse and lazy. Content marketing? Managers want to hire someone in their industry. Put them to work right away, so that in month one they’ve created industry-specific blog posts and white papers that connect with prospects.

100 MQLs, five opportunities, all from that new hire in the first month. How about that for ROI!

Hire someone from outside your industry and they’d need to be educated. That insider you hired instead? Less risk and less work for the hiring manager.

Or, take Marketing Ops. You’re a Marketo-Salesforce shop that sprinkles in some intent data, predictive analytics and marketing attribution. The primary elements of your martech stack come from five vendors. You skim resumes looking to match as many of the five as you can.

The perfect candidate?

You guessed it. Someone using all five vendors. And in your industry.

Low risk, low overhead. Make the offer!

But here’s the thing with insiders. Low risk and low overhead could also mean low ceiling. Yes, the insider has a high floor, since they arrive on day one ready to rock and roll. But what about their potential to grow and exceed expectations — you know, a high ceiling? Not clear.

I say it’s time to turn marketing teams inside-out.

Marketing innovation happens, I argue, when you build your team around outsiders.

Examples in hiring

I confess to not being objective here, since I’ve been on the receiving end of this line of hiring methodology. A recruiter once contacted me about an opportunity with her B2C client. The client requested writing samples — I sent them along with a note stating that I didn’t have B2C writing samples, only B2B.

The client wrote back to the recruiter along the lines of, “Pass. Doesn’t have the right point of view in his writing.”

Of course I didn’t!

But a good writer can adapt tone and voice to the parameters and personality of the brand. Yes, I didn’t have examples showing the right voice. But I’m confident I would have done a good job. I have a high ceiling!

In another example, I interviewed with a high-tech company that had a fairly complex product. The hiring manager asked for samples of “vertical industry product launches in our industry or in a closely related industry.”

Sorry — didn’t have that. So my candidacy didn’t move forward.

Now, let’s consider what hiring managers and organizations miss out on when insisting on insiders vs. outsiders.

A fresh perspective

A marketer who’s spent 20 years in ERP software is going to have a fairly fixed view of the world. Ask the marketer to write a blog post announcing the latest product offering and s/he is likely to dive straight into industry lingo and acronyms.

That’s just fine for other industry insiders. But what about colleagues at prospective customer companies who influence the sale such as Lines of Business (LOB) leaders, or even the CEO?

Can the 20-year marketer explain the new product’s features in a way that makes sense to non-technical influencers? Maybe.

Now, let’s consider a fresh-out-of-college marketer who has zero years’ experience in ERP software. In fact, she has zero years of experience in marketing. She has done internships, however, where she scored high marks on her business writing.

Ask her to spend a week with product management, engineering, customer support and customer success. Then, give her an assignment with loosely-specified requirements related to the new product. Tell her that the objective is to communicate with non-technical influencers at prospective customer accounts.

I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what she creates.

A fresh approach

We place too high a priority on skills fit. Hiring for a Marketing Ops Manager? Candidates must have five years’ experience with Marketo, Oracle Eloqua or a similar platform. No prior experience with marketing automation? No thank you.

I urge marketing managers to embrace risk and hire candidates who don’t have that perfect skills match. Instead, look for the right attributes, such as intellect, passion, emotional intelligence, curiosity and grit.

Again, big risk here, because someone will need to train the new hire on what a marketing automation platform even is. This is best done if you have senior staff who can guide and mentor. I’d argue that the “newbie” Marketing Ops Manager will take a fresh approach and bring creative ideas that were never considered before. Those creative ideas will make your marketing more effective.

The existing Marketing Ops Manager knows how to cleanse data, schedule a 50,000 email send and generate marketing attribution reports. He’s good at his job — he has a high floor, but a low ceiling. His replacement who has no prior experience? Low floor, but a high ceiling.

A formula to close

It’s my belief that a team of insiders will generate average results. Bring outsiders onto your team, however, and watch innovation be unleashed. The formula?

Fresh perspective + fresh approach = amazing results.

Think outside the box. Pun intended.


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