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  • Simon Boardman

What We Learned at This Month's ESMA Meeting

Before we dive into what we did learn, a word about the ESMA. The Executive Sales and Marketing Association (ESMA) “represents and enhances the capabilities of Georgia’s sales and marketing professionals. Our purpose is to provide a forum where Georgia’s sales and marketing leadership can learn, discuss, and exchange ideas to improve each member company’s top-line growth and the individual’s professional career.” That’s according to the scchppiel (sorry mission statement) on the web site.

It’s a networking group that meets on the third Mondays of (nearly) every month, under the leadership of the late (not yet) and great Bruce Kopkin. Bruce is a thoughtful and tireless organizer who always finds interesting subjects and a similarly intriguing collection of presenters, hosts and panel guests to come in share their thoughts on the issues of the day. The group are more senior professionals. They have great experience and insight (nay wisdom) and they’re not afraid to share it and to confront the issues and thoughts under discussion at any given meeting. Speakers expect to be challenged, and they usually are. This is NOT a crowd that take the “guided tour” or will fall for a bunch of media crafted, fashionable mumbo jumbo.

Enough of all that…What did we learn last night from Moderator - John Harris (OMT Consultants, LLC), and Panelists Cheryl Abbott and Ali Howard (Impact Search Partners) and Todd McCormick (CRO, Terminus)?

Well, too much to get into this article, so these are the highlights:

It’s a mean old scene in hiring in Sales and Marketing in Atlanta.

Demand is high and candidates (even those with little or no experience) can be choosy as they field multiple offers. As Cheryl and Ali pointed out, this is a double-edged sword for recruiters as “yes” demand is high so it’s a busy market, but good candidates are in short supply. On balance it’s still probably better for candidates and recruiters than for companies looking to hire. Todd mentioned that at Terminus they have had to compress their hiring process, otherwise they’re losing candidate. Guess it’s all about speed again.

Join the Culture Club.

The subject of Culture continues to rear its head. The panel arrived at this one as a form of differentiation and attraction for candidates. Inevitably you are only one step away from getting into the authenticity or these ideas, or whether “culture” get mis-used and ends up as “smoke and mirrors” or “lipstick on the pig” (pick your own metaphor). As companies struggle to differentiate, culture rides in like the 7th Cavalry to save the day. But not so fast. Culture is not all “motherhood and apple pie” and is grossly mis-understood AND mis-used. Culture is too often trivialized these days (by both employer and employee) as an assortment of charitable giving, environmental consciousness, community involvement, beans bags, pizza lunches and CEO’s throwing out fine, agreeable (but all too often empty) words. As the panel reminded us; culture is hard. It’s difficult to be as thoughtful as you need to be. It comes from the top and is a 24x7, 365 commitment. As well as being deliberate and thoughtful about their culture, hiring companies need to be genuine. Cultural attention is not just a box to tick. Culture is a huge subject and hugely important. For more insight, see the Verto blog, particularly the link to Jason Kiler, the former CEO of HULU’s talk on it. (enough of the self-promotion – right?)


Todd talked about the importance of identifying a candidate’s capacity to be “coachable”. The group discussed this with respect to “specialization”. In other words, did you need to restrict yourselves to domain expertise (either in the form of the market, or the type of product or technology in this case) OR is it more important to demonstrate sales skills or the ability and willingness to learn them? In the perfect world you get “all of the above” (what the panel called the “purple dinosaur” or something? …oh hang on…that’s Barney). Whatever. They were using a metaphor for the Unicorn (hang on, that’s another metaphor….) and in the current tight market, that’s probably unrealistic, as the panel all agreed. Todd emphasized the importance here of identifying the capacity to learn, and then the line manager’s responsibility with enablement and effectiveness tools PLUS that manger’s commitment and attention to help someone succeed. In other words, tools, technologies and the latest techniques are NOT a substitute for good old fashioned leadership and mentoring.

There were more things than this that we learned, but you have to stop somewhere, right? These three points stood out to me.

One final thought on the ESMA group and the attitudes of the tech industry to the veterans this group represents. Just recently my wife suffered a heart attack. She’s too young for a heart attack but sometimes those are the cards that life deals you. Thanks to her own strength and the professionals at Piedmont Hospital, she’s back to normal (this was three weeks ago by the way). When she emerged from the Cardiac Catheterization procedure to unblock an artery, the doctor who performed the procedure spoke with both of us. He was what I’d expect and what we all feel comfortable with in a medical professional performing that type of operation. About my age, a few wrinkles, grey hair and the confident manner that accompanies accumulated expertise It all said “EXPERIENCE” to me. He was performing a procedure that has become mainstream DURING his own medical career. In other words, he had to evolve as well. Most other professions value this type of experience, but tech has always seemed to be less enthusiastic in this respect. The Tech industry generally kids itself that only “new is good”. A healthy dose of “sageism” will show all the “right-on tech dudes” that most of it ‘aint as new as they think it is and “Those Who Fail to Learn From the Mistakes of History Are Doomed to Repeat Them”. Food for thought…

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