A couple weeks back I contributed to a Forbes CMO network in an article about the traits of successful marketing leaders. It’s an important topic, so I decided to expand on it here.
The marketing function is becoming more complex, more strategic and more interesting. More complex because today marketers need to take advantage of more tools and technologies available to us: from marketing automation to big data to social media.
More strategic because companies are recognizing the deep relationship between marketing and business strategy and CEOs have a better understanding of the value of marketing and its potential as a source of competitive advantage. More interesting because all these tools and channels are opening many new possibilities as areas like psychology intersect with marketing creating behavioral economics – an area that is both fascinating and fundamental to every marketer.
In this broader context of marketing, how do we marketing leaders need to grow? What are the most important traits we need to develop? There are four at the top of the list:
1. Revenue ownership and accountability.
Yes, metrics are important, but modern marketers can no longer claim success measuring their contribution to the business based on ambiguous metrics like followers, brand value, impressions, or clicks. We need to show how marketing directly impacts the business, we need to connect marketing activities result in growth. And we need to make sure every member of the marketing team is focused on business value, and not only metrics, every single day.
Revenue orientation is important, but we need to take it a step further: marketing leaders must be accountable for revenue growth. A shared accountability on revenue with sales leaders will drive collaboration acting as a common goal.
2. Smart adaptability.
Marketers and marketing must evolve at the same rate as customers change and the tools to interact with them evolve. This is why I called my blog The Adaptive Marketer. New generations have different behaviors and tools to talk, to share and to advocate. Social media online and mobile devices are only about 15 years old. Newspapers are going away. TV is in the middle of a (real) paradigm shift.
The risk is that we marketers are known for chasing shiny objects. This is why we need smart adaptability, which is defined as being smart to distinguish buzzwords (like big data) from real trends and to make the right investments in these new areas that allow for experimentation and learning. It’s not all black and white: data driven marketing, for example, carries some risks (read my post on The Mirage of Data) but also significant opportunity.
3. Customer Centricity.
The source of value of marketers to the organization is not creativity, it’s not metrics orientation and it’s not the ability to come up with clever marketing campaigns. The source of value is our understanding of the customer. Knowing who is your customer (and who is not), what problems they want solve, how they want them solved, how they look for solutions, who they trust, what alternatives they consider, how they want to buy, and how customers evolve over time is job#1 for marketers. If you don’t know your customers, markets, competitors and opportunities you can’t function as a marketer.
Peter Drucker wrote “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well, the product or service fits him and sells itself”. One of Mike Markkula’s three principles for marketing at Apple is empathy, which he defined as “We will truly understand (customer) needs better than any other company.”
It is the role of marketing to champion the voice of the customer internally and to share market insights that lead the way for the organization company. No company can be truly customer-centric and market driven unless the marketing leader takes this role seriously. Marketing must lead the fundamental corporate strategy decisions (where to play and how to win) and be the evangelists that help everyone in the company understand market opportunities, customer expectations and how the company adds value to customers.
4. Team building and leadership.
We talked about how marketing is becoming broader, including disciplines like social, SEO/SEM, behavioral economics, market research, paid ads, pricing, and many more. It is impossible for a marketing leader to be an expert on all these areas. One of the hardest tasks for a marketing leader is to build a team of specialists that is highly competent, action oriented, customer centric and revenue accountable.
Hiring A players, for any job, takes discipline and hard work. It is tempting to hire a B player to get more hands on deck fast. It’s surprisingly hard to find quality marketing talent. The traditional interview process is very limited. I like doing practical tests in addition to interviews, but even those have flaws. Recruiting is an important aspect of a marketing leader.
After building the team comes leading. For marketing, focus is a key aspect of leadership. The marketing job never ends: there are always more channels, more opportunities and more activities than anyone can do. A marketing leader can be successful only if he or she focuses the team, and a team is only focused if everyone knows what not to do. What markets not to pursue, what customers to ignore, what activities to avoid.
There are many skills and qualities that are useful to highly desirable in any marketer – more than any blog post or book can cover. A marketing leader who demonstrates revenue accountability, smart adaptability, customer centricity and leadership is well on its way to success. How are you building and enhancing these super powers?