I’ll admit it. I didn’t go to school for marketing, but somehow after many years in the green industry, I became a marketing manager for a lawn and landscape company. It was a thrilling ride that led to many successes, transitioning later to my current position with a green industry marketing agency.

But I’m realizing my story is a bit of an anomaly. The more common story I hear from my green industry peers is how they were either shoehorned into a marketing position or must manage marketing tasks on top of other organizational responsibilities. It wasn’t their idea, and they’re just being a team player. The divided attention and heart, along with a less than ideal skillset, often leads to mediocre results and just another pile of tasks that must get done each week.

But is convenience the way a marketing position in your company should be filled? Where should your lawn or landscape company look when they need to hire a marketing person? Should you hire from within your company or look outside?

Hiring within vs. looking outside your company

Internal candidates probably know your company pretty well. They may understand how you’re different from competitors and may be able to really explain your services. They may even have technical knowledge that an external candidate would need to learn. But if they have been in a different role in your company, do they really have the marketing chops you’re hoping for? If they are doing marketing as just part of their duties, will they really succeed in it or be passionate about it? Will they have to learn marketing as well? Can they even learn that, and if so from whom?

External candidates, specifically with experience in marketing other services, may have a firm grasp on marketing strategy and modern methods but will have a learning curve when it comes to learning the subject matter of your business. They may offer some new perspectives your team never thought of and could bring issues to the forefront that you never considered. But how long will it take them to pick up lawn care and landscaping? And to what degree do they need to grasp those concepts? Who is going to teach them about lawns and landscapes?

As you can see, both internal and external marketing candidates offer their own set of potential strengths and weaknesses that provoke even more questions.

Are you asking the right questions?

It’s always more comfortable to go with something that is known. You know Jimmy has shown up for work for the past seven years. You know he performs when it counts. You know how he interacts with the rest of your team. There seems to be little risk when going with an internal candidate, so that’s why most companies go that route.

Or it’s easy to pile on a couple other responsibilities here and there to someone filling another role. Sending out some newsletters, coordinating some direct mail or updating the company Facebook page shouldn’t be that much of a bother, right?

But is the question really about if you should hire within or outside the company for a marketing role? Is it about passion or skills? Is it more about the person filling the role than where they are coming from?

Throw aside your preconceived notions about internal vs. external candidates for a moment. Think long and hard about why you need someone in this role. Think about what you hope they will accomplish. Your marketing person needs to do this every day, month after month, and over the years in order to be successful. Company growth depends on it and you know that no matter where they come from, they will have things they need to learn.

The key question is this: Are you willing to bet your company’s future on a shoehorned, internal candidate and hope they have enough time in the day and hard-wired traits within them to quickly learn the marketing skills required to grow your company?

I say I was an anomaly because I’m not something magical. There are many marketers who know way more than me. But it was a rare, perfect storm of ideal circumstances. It’s not the norm and not what I see other lawn and landscape companies doing to fill these roles. There may be a better way, and it just may be looking outside of your company.

The anatomy of a successful green industry marketing pro

There are three things you need for your marketing person to be successful and help grow your company.

1. The right hard-wired personality traits

You cannot teach people problem-solving, creativity, focus, autonomy, organization, dedication or passion. Those are hard-wired traits. They may use people, processes and technology to strengthen those traits, but if these traits aren’t in their nature, your marketing person will become mentally exhausted and fail.

2. Marketing experience and know-how

If you hired a hardscaping crew leader, you’d expect them to not need to learn on the job and to hopefully know what they were doing a couple years down the line. Yet this is what happens when you hire someone internally for marketing and hope they figure it out down the line.

Marketing isn’t an afterthought or a novel notion. It’s how you grow your business. In order to really know how to market your company, that takes a lot of experience in practice and substantial training. It’s something that will take an internal candidate at least four to six years to grasp, if you’re lucky.

3. Full-time attention

A successful marketer is constantly thinking about strategy, execution and analysis of growing a business. It’s not something that can be easily done in 10 hours a week or wedged in between client meetings, office reports or personnel training.

In addition to practical experience or formal training, successful marketers read marketing blogs; consult with fellow marketers; and eat, breathe and sleep marketing. That kind of attention isn’t something that is inherited just because you give someone more job responsibilities.

What’s missing?

If you notice, I didn’t say green industry knowledge is on the list. There’s a reason for that. Your company is filled with experts who know all about landscapes and lawns. What you don’t have is a marketing expert. You can’t teach them that.

Sure, your team will have valuable and necessary contributions to how the marketing strategy is crafted, but if your new marketing person has these three things, the green knowledge will come quickly. They’ll be immersed in green industry information day in, and day out. They will be more passionate about learning it than you may even be able teach them. That’s just how they’re wired.

However, if you go the convenient route of filling the marketing responsibilities with an internal candidate with no marketing experience, you can’t teach them marketing. They may learn elsewhere, but it’s going to take a lot more resources and time to get their marketing knowledge where it needs to be. And, if they don’t have the time or hard-wired traits to get there, they’re going to fail.

Hiring the best candidate

Don’t let a prestigious degree or a polished resume of an external candidate fool you. Find out what external candidates have done for their past employers. Present them with some of the marketing challenges you are facing and ask what they would do to solve them. Watch their experience and hard-wired traits start to reveal themselves. You’ll also get a good picture of how they will collaborate as you start to bounce ideas back and forth.

If you’re worried about the external candidate picking up the green industry knowledge, find out how they learned about other foreign subject nature in the past. Ask them what their plan would be to get up to speed in your company should they join the team.

Don’t expect the perfect storm to develop. Your people may be great, but they each have unique gifts, which are probably far from marketing. Don’t pile marketing on top of their other duties and expect them to deliver the results you’re hoping for. Your company’s growth depends on you taking the time to find the marketing expert you need, not just using internal candidates as an easy alternative.