Don’t want to hire an outside resource? Consider the story of everyone’s favorite fighting Frenchman

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Chris Gale

June 16, 2024 • 3 min read

Interest rates are up, go-to-market spending is down, and outside marketing and public relations are overpriced. But the smartest leaders of B2B firms know that taking advantage of the exceptions to these trends in today’s business environment will make or break their companies.

Investing in new messaging and new markets is necessary to land new customers and grow. But your internal marketing and sales team still needs to focus on what’s going to bring the most efficient and profitable revenue today – your existing customers in your existing markets. You shouldn’t distract them with side quests.

Even if you did ask your internal marketing and sales team to engage a speculative new market, they most likely would not give it the focus and thinking required to succeed. Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma” is jam-packed with how and why these distracting side quests are usually unproductive.

If you want to break into a new market, especially if an incumbent is already succeeding there, you need a separate team whose existence is attached to success in that market. Outsourcing to a marketing and public relations agency – mercenaries, let’s call them – entails challenges, however.

Specifically, you need mercenaries who have the relevant experience to win in a new market as well as the mindset and operations that will integrate easily into your firm’s culture and workflows. You want an outsider and a team player who can enter an established market in a fresh, innovative manner that also reflects your firm’s unique approach to business. That’s a tricky balancing act.

Isaac Oates, chief executive and founder of professional employer organization and payroll provider Justworks , described this dilemma perfectly in an interviewwith Brad Svrluga.

“We had salespeople with sales experience, just not this kind of sales experience,” Oates said. “There are a lot of things you relearn from scratch…I would talk with people who’d worked at the incumbents in the space, and they all would say, ‘Alright, hire me and we’ll show you how it’s done.’ I was just like, ‘I don’t think we want that.’…somebody wasn’t going to come in and just put us back to what everybody else was doing.”

So what’s the solution? May I introduce you to Marquis de Lafayette, the hero of the American Revolutionary War affectionately known as everyone’s favorite fighting Frenchman.

Lafayette, we are here

General George Washington met many French and other foreign officers who showed up to help achieve his goals (see Oates’ point above). He needed their expertise, of course, but he didn’t want them to show him how to establish a new nation like everyone else. He was doing something new along with his fellow Americans.

Unlike many of these mercenaries, Lafayette was not expensive for the American treasury. But he asked to be appointed a major general, an outlandishly high rank for a 19-year-old who had never fought in battle. From that perspective, he was an overvalued outside resource. However, the ragtag American army was also not the stuff of the French regulars by any stretch of the imagination. Lafayette, in other words, was arguably taking a risk, too.

How did Lafayette secure his position? He dispensed with any notions that he was superior to his partners.

“I’m here to learn, not to teach,” Lafayette said, as Mike Duncan writes in his biography of the Frenchman, “Hero of Two Worlds.”

That’s an interesting thing for a mercenary to say – quite uncharacteristic. Lafayette wanted to understand Washington’s vision of a new country and leverage the Americans’ advantages while helping the rebels win against their stronger, more experienced European adversaries. B2B leaders should keep this anecdote in mind when they’re thinking about outsourcing to a marketing and public relations agency that will help them conquer a new market.

Outside resources are good. They can be a difference maker in many ways that allow you to break into new markets and see things differently than just plodding away trying to do what everyone else is doing. But they need to show that they’re there to learn, just as much as to lend a hand and figure out the hard things. That’s the perfect mix.

So, when the chips are down – and they were certainly down when Lafayette arrived in the future United States – don’t cut yourself off from outside resources. Invest in them so you can break new ground.

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