With the economy expanding, many companies may be looking to grow their customer base. While that usually means hiring more salespeople, the best companies support their sales stars with crack marketing teams.

Hiring great marketers can be challenging, though. Some marketers are great at appearing to be useful when they're really accomplishing next to nothing. And, in my experience, some of the worst marketers have MBAs or years of experience.

With that in mind, here's what to look for in a marketing candidate:

1. A person who understands that marketing is a service.

The first question to ask any candidate for a marketing job: "Define marketing." The answers will fall into three categories:

  • "Say whut?" You'd be surprised how many marketers (including people with MBAs) don't have a working definition of what they do, or plan to do, for a living. If your question smokes out one of these clueless folk, terminate the interview, if only because the candidate came unprepared to answer an entirely obvious question.
  • "Marketing is strategic." Some marketers define marketing too broadly. For example, the American Marketing Association defines marketing as "the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large." Candidates who hold such bloated notions tend to squander their energy in too many directions.
  • "Marketing is a service." A top marketing candidate will tend to define marketing as a service that helps sales do its job more easily. Example: "Marketing means finding sales leads that the sales team can easily close and supporting them with materials and tools that make it easier to close."

2. A person who likes being measured.

Weak marketing groups focus on activities, regardless of whether those activities generate sales opportunities or help salespeople close them. Such activities include:

  • Brochures that nobody reads
  • Rebranding exercises that nobody cares about
  • Fancy ads that generate zero sales leads
  • Corporate sponsorships that make no sense
  • Qualitative research (focus groups) that have no scientific validity
  • Press releases that reporters promptly delete (I get 25 every day)
  • Trade shows that are networking parties for the marketers

Strong marketing groups (and the candidates you'd want to hire in them) are all about quantitative measurement. They're familiar with marketing metrics (like conversion rates) and more than willing to have their work judged on the basis of verifiable numbers.

3. A person who can write concisely.

We now live in a constant state of information overload. Because of this, the only marketing messages that are heard and remembered are short, vivid, and original.

Unfortunately, some marketers are prone to use $5 words when 50¢ words would do the job better; biz-blab like "reach out," "circle back," and "pick your brain"; and clichés like "disruptive innovation," "industry-leading," and "state of the art."

While other professionals are equally guilty of these sins, they're deadly to marketing because marketers must communicate with customers who are notoriously unwilling to wade through thick business prose.

Here's a suggestion: Demand a writing sample--on the spot with a surprise topic--from every candidate. Then put yourself in the customer's shoes and decide whether the candidate has the writing chops to cut through the noise.

4. A person who's had some experience selling.

Lousy marketers think selling is easy. When sales don't happen, lousy marketers accuse the sales team of being unable to sell. This pointless conflict between sales and marketing is a huge productivity tax.

Great marketers have a deep respect for the job of selling. They realize that marketing is only meaningful if it helps the salespeople do their job, which is much more important than any marketing task.

The best way to ensure a marketing candidate has the right attitude toward marketing versus sales is some type of experience selling somewhere in the candidate's résumé. You needn't hold out for someone who's sold for a living (although that would be ideal), but it is important that a marketing candidate know what it's like to actually sell.

You see, selling is a little like sex; if you've never experienced it, your opinions on how to do it better (or help someone else do it better) are truly worse than useless.