Like all really interesting questions, there is no one right answer to this question. There are lots of opinions, though, and I’m happy to share mine. (As always!)
The first inclination of marketing managers is to hire within their industry. After all, it significantly decreases the learning curve. When the role is one where knowledge of the product or market is critical, e.g., product management, it makes sense to look within the industry.
However, for most other roles, there’s a strong case to be made for looking outside your industry.
The downside of in-industry hires
In my experience, employees hired away from a competitor rarely live up to expectations. It’s not so much the fault of the employee as it is the tendency to assume that the competitor is so much better than we are. One organization I worked with was prone to hiring competitors. The employees had a standing joke about the superman cape new employees got to wear for all of about three months before it got handed off to the next “awesome hire.”
You should also consider whether marketers forged in your industry have the breadth of skills you need to help you innovate and not just imitate.
For example, a lot of B2B marketing companies are truly horrible at social media marketing. Better to get ahead of that curve while there’s still time. You might consider hiring an employee from the B2C world. Marketers (of any age) with consumer brand experience are often much better with social media.
If you’re not sure this is the right approach, consider hiring a freelancer to put together a social media plan for you. (Sorry, but my experience is strictly B2B.)
A case in point
Before I started freelancing, my entire career was spent working in the software industry. Granted, I held positions that touched on a lot of different industries, but it was all software, all the time.
I got my start in freelancing when an agency working with clients in the energy sector recognized they needed someone comfortable with working with highly technical people. Someone who could quickly pick up on the jargon. Someone not easily intimidated. Someone not afraid to ask questions.
A marketer from that industry would be too easily led by the subject matter experts (SMEs) because their experiences would be the same. They’d be too busy bonding over things they agreed on to come up with anything new. They’d be too busy using the same buzzwords to notice it wasn’t the same language used by their target audience - utility executives.
My relative inexperience in the industry gave me the leeway I needed to ask the “stupid questions” that got the subject matter experts rethinking their own assumptions. That two-week project turned into almost four years of work, and the relationship is still going strong.
Have you hired someone from outside your industry that turned out to be just what you needed? Or do you firmly believe that industry experience is a must have?