For the first 90 days of this year, I'm each week posting the "single most important thing you need to know" about 13 essential aspects of sales and marketing, because "1 percent of activity creates 99 percent of success." Here are my columns so far:

In this column, I'm sharing something that can literally save a growing business hundreds of thousands of dollars--by ensuring that the people you hire to grow your business actually have the correct attitude that will make that possible.

The problem with hiring marketers is that the concept of marketing is so amorphous. Is it advertising? Branding? Customer requirements? Sales channels? Logo design? Trade shows? Brochures? Email blasts?

The easy answer is "all of that," but the easy answer doesn't provide you with a usable guideline for differentiating "good marketing" from "bad marketing." While some elements (e.g. email blasts) are easily measurable, most of the rest are not. 

Because it can be difficult to measure, a lot of marketing activity turns out to be pretty useless or even counterproductive. This is especially true in big firms (where marketing can be parasitic) but even startups often waste money on useless marketing tactics. 

For example, I've seen startups tie themselves into knots worrying about their brand identity (name, logo, tag line) and so forth, long before they have any customers or even any products. That's time and money wasted.

The amorphous quality of marketing puts hiring managers at a disadvantage when seeking top talent. Reducing marketing as mere tactics drives the hiring manager to base the decision on if the marketer has done A, B and C rather than the results of A, B and C.

Fortunately, there is a touchstone question that you can ask any marketing job candidate that will instantly suss out whether their activities (varied though they'll be) will help you grow your business.  Here's the question:

Are you willing to work in sales for three months before moving into this position?

This question is powerful because the "organizing principle" behind all marketing activity is that it smooths the way for sales to take place. Marketing, in short, is an organization that must always be in service to Sales rather than a stand-alone corporate function.

The job candidate will react in one of three ways:

  1. Sure, that might be fun.
  2. Uh, I guess so.
  3. No, I'm a marketer.

Unless you get answer #1, don't hire that marketer. Anything other than enthusiasm shows that the candidate either doesn't understand selling or doesn't respect selling, in which case there's virtually no chance they'll be able to help your company sell things.