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Written by Lisa Shepherd
on October 16, 2014

Hiring someone to build your firm's brand? Asking these four things will help you to separate the experts from the noisemakers

This is the final part of a three-part series meant to help owners of business-to-business (B2B) companies decide whether they need to hire a marketing manager—and how they can go about doing so. Part one probed how to determine whether your company actually needs a marketing manager. Part two detailed what you should look for in the manager. This installation reveals the essential interview questions you must ask to find the right fit.

So, you’ve decided that your B2B company needs a marketer, either in-house or outsourced. What can you do to find someone who will deliver results, not just talk?

Here are four powerful interview questions that will help you separate expert marketers from noisemakers (and there are a lot of the latter in this line of work). Ask these questions of candidates to determine who will move your company forward—and who will do little more than waste your budget.

Question 1: How will you develop a marketing strategy for our business?

When I ask this question, I want the candidate to walk me through a fact-finding process that shows me they know a good strategy is based on information about a company, its competition and its customers. I want to hear them ask questions (or show they have a process of identifying answers) on issues like:

• Who is the target market?
• What are the pain points that customers have?
• How does the competition compare to us?
• What are we exceptionally good at, and what are we weak at?
• What are our growth objectives?

I also want to hear how candidates define “marketing strategy.” They don’t need to be academic about this (in fact, I don’t want them to be—talk of Porter’s Five Forces is irrelevant at the small and mid-sized business level). But I do want them to have a handle on what they should include in a marketing strategy.

2. What tactics will you use in our marketing?

The right answer here is, of course, “It depends on the strategy, particularly the target market.” But there are some safe bets you’ll want them to mention. For example, most B2B companies should be using content marketing and digital channels. So, marketers should touch on content development and distribution through web, search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising.

They should factor in PR, and the importance of communicating a compelling story. They might also talk about tactics like webinars.

I’d be nervous if they jump immediately to a discussion about print advertising, trade shows or direct mail. These aren’t necessarily bad marketing tactics and can be very effective, but they’re old-school. Mentioning these right off the bat could be an indicator that your candidate isn’t as current as you might want them to be.

3. What milestones would you set, and what would you deliver by each?

Effective marketing takes time. It’s not something you put in place one day and see dramatic results the following week. Marketers have to demonstrate that they can create a long-term plan and stick to it. I use this question to ensure they know they need to create a plan and deliver on it consistently—and make a commitment to get specific things done at certain points in time.

A lot of marketers talk a big game. But what your company really needs is someone who will follow through and get many interrelated things done, relatively quickly. I want a potential hire to aim to have a marketing plan in place within four weeks if the company has good knowledge of the target market and the competition, or eight to 10 weeks if external research is needed to develop a solid strategy.

Once the plan is approved, it’s reasonable to expect certain deliverables within the first 100 days (e.g. a new website, sales collateral or brand identity). A candidate should reference a similar time frame.

And finally, I’d be looking for evidence that they plan to deliver results in terms of qualified leads, site traffic, whitepaper downloads, etc. within six to nine months. A good candidate will set out a plan for how he/she intends to deliver an increase to your sales pipeline within a year (or less, depending on your industry).

4. How will you measure success?

A good marketer knows that there are two kinds of measurement: of activities and of results. You need both; without the activities, you don’t get the results. But never forget that the results are really the goal. No one cares how many press releases you wrote last year if you didn’t get a single new lead or customer.

When I ask this question of candidates, I want to hear about measurable results like pipeline growth (qualified leads), revenue increases and other customer retention and share-of-wallet metrics. I also want to hear about activity metrics, like content produced and distributed as well as engagement metrics like whitepaper downloads, site visitors and webinar attendees.

However, I don’t want marketers to just throw numbers around. I want to see they have a realistic understanding of what results are achievable.

These four questions will give you insight on a marketer’s skills and their approach. They’ll help you find someone who can create a plan and execute it—not just someone who will do a bunch of work no discernible outcomes. Sadly, too many companies hire “busywork marketers.” When the company doesn’t enjoy any increase in business, they think that marketing doesn’t work. It does. You just have to use it right, and that starts with getting the right marketer in your fold.

Looking for more help to when hiring a marketing firm or internal leader for your B2B business?  Download our eBook to learn the 5 key questions to ask.

5 Questions CEOs Should Ask Marketing Firms

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