Editor’s note: Scott Place, president of Maverick Marketing, pens the first of a series of guest editorials leading up to CED’s “Engage: Sales and Marketing”, scheduled for June 24 at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. During Engage, Place will lead a panel discussion on “Finding and Retaining Dynamic Sales & Marketing People.” Place’s panel, which is of five concurrent discussions at Engage, will cover key factors to consider when hiring, such as the type of company, how long the company has been in business and product or service lines should be considered when hiring. Visit www.cednc.org/engage for more information. My father managed a diverse set of operations in his 35 years as manufacturing manager, and there was one nugget of wisdom from his experience I have carried with me in my career. He said you could make bad decisions in a given situation or on equipment, but the most painful bad decision was a bad personnel decision.

The reason, he said, was that a bad personnel decision will haunt you everyday. He frequently said his job was like a coach trying to pull everyone together to win regardless of the situation. This is especially true when hiring sales and marketing people for your company.

I’d like to suggest that companies avoid this pain of making personnel decisions by approaching it like a professional sports general manager or coach. OK, I’m a guy, so the sports metaphor is a natural for me, but I think this makes perfect sense. Managers or CEOs need to look at the skills they need, where their business is currently in its life cycle, and how much they can spend to stock their team.

Match needs and people

Young teams need different types of talent than more established teams…an obvious but frequently ignored fact. I’ve seen this several times when CEOs hire “the Rolodex guy” who was a quota crusher at a large company or the marketing person who won accolades with multimillion dollar product launches. The large company stars sometimes struggle when there is virtually no budget or when they are selling a product less tested by time and bleeding edge. A superstar at IBM or Glaxo might be a great addition to your sales and marketing team, but they might also be disaster because they do not have a clue how to survive in a smaller company. CEOs need to probe in the interview process as to how ready and able big company superstars are to take on early stage challenges.

The similar challenge of team makeup awaits the company as it grows beyond the early stages. It induces a great deal of pain when the people who built the company need to be replaced with veterans of larger companies. The original team members who were the perfect team to go from zero to $5 million might not be the best people to grow the company from $5 million to $50 million.

Young and hungry or veterans?

So the answer seems to be similar to what general managers do for professional sports teams. In the beginning they draft predominantly young and hungry raw talent. It’s the talent they can afford, these people are more willing to take risks, and they can survive in a resource-constrained situation. The hope is that these team members can evolve into standout superstars for years to come as the team grows and matures. Next, the general manager begins to add “been there, done that” guys as the team grows, gets closer to a championship, or as more budget becomes available. These players mentor the younger people on how to win in bigger games and tougher competition.

The best sports general managers tinker with their teams to find the right talent at the right time to achieve team goals. They need to balance their budget, and they need to manage their team of aggressive, talented and frequently boisterous players. CEOs or Vice Presidents of Sales and Marketing face the same situation – just minus the pads, cleats or high-top shoes.