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5 Realizations which will help moving forward in your marketing career

I’ve been having discussions with a bunch of people lately around what makes a good marketing leader for a project I’ve been working on.    Just the other day I met up with a few of folks over coffee and the discussion got really interesting.    By interesting, I mean pretty interesting as I started to see patterns in the work I’ve been doing and the things they were saying.   The discussion centered on what situations, qualities and activities have made a difference in their careers as marketers.

It was such an interesting discussion, I decided to lead future conversations down this path and drilled down on it with a couple of other folks (marketers and non-marketers) over the last week or so.  To that end, here are 5 items which surfaced as key lessons learned/attributes/considerations which help develop good leaders in marketing:

1. Good Marketers Trust Their Teams – One of the critical success factors for marketers is whether they can lead their organization to meet the demands of the market AND the business.  To be able to support both, marketing leaders will need to enlist support from every part of the business.   Too often marketers and product managers get mired down in trying to drive EVERY component of their products activities in the market and inside the business operationally which isn’t the best approach. Sometimes you need to delegate and trust the experts in each area to do their jobs effectively.

Prioritize what is really important and let the team do their job

2. Marketing doesn’t have ALL the Good Ideas – While decision making isn’t a collaborative process and a person needs to be accountable, too often marketers make decisions in a vacuum.  Successful marketers take multiple inputs and decision what is best base on ALL the inputs and sometimes the good ideas just might come from sales, development or another group.

The funny thing about some marketers is that once he/she finds something that works they try it again and again and again — even if it doesn’t work for the current situation or are having diminishing returns on execution.  I’ve seen a bunch of marketers say stuff like ‘this worked at X company’ or maybe they provide the ‘you haven’t done marketing’ excuse about why they are pursuing something or why someone elses idea is bad, whatever….  ultimately it doesn’t matter —  a good idea is a good idea and you need to pursue those where ever they come from.  Good marketers check their egos and preferences at the door when they go into decision mode

3. Nobody really cares about your product:  The people that buy your products only care that they solve their problem and that a given vendor understands them.   Most buyers think all the product are the just about the same, at least those on the short list.

I’ve worked at a bunch of companies that had killer technology and we walked around touting the tech and dismissing the competitors because their technology sucked, but we were still a rounding error in the market.  The other companies had great exits or have grown to have great multiples even with bad technology.  What’s that saying?  The technology floor is littered with great products which failed or something…”

4. Tell stories: Whether it’s a new product being launched, a legacy product or a new market segment which is being pursued it’s typically the marketer with the best story, not product that succeeds.  Product roadmaps, case studies and your prospect presentations are all about telling stories.

I have never won a deal on a feature or even a product, but I’ve lost a bunch due to the fact that I couldn’t get the decision maker convinced that going with my company’s offering over another made better sense in the long run of the relationship.  Typically, if my story was more compelling I’ve won the deal – even with an inferior product

5. You have to be willing to do ALL the work: Many marketers come to roles with experience in one market segment or another, some may have even had other functional roles which influence what strategies they pursue and tactics they use.  For example, a marketer with a sales background might put all the focus on lead generation since he/she isn’t familiar with or doesn’t like other marketing activities.   Another way to put it, even though you hate crunching data/events/finance stuff, you still have to do the data/event/finance stuff so you either get good at it yourself or build a team which has diverse skills to support all aspects of marketing.

When I hire I look to balance my own soft spots and the team in general.   I look for a more balanced background in applicants which have had multiple functional roles, this not only rounds them out from a skills perspective, but allows them to understand that building or promoting or selling the product is only one of the critical activities which make products successful in the market which is always a good perspective to have when you are a marketer.”

Discussion Group/Sample Overview

1. CTO*
2. COO
3. Sr Product Manager
4. QA Director**
5. Product Executive (actually his title)
6. SVP, Strategic Marketing
7. Director, Business Development***

*thinks he’s a marketer
**never had a marketing gig, but is really smart and knows a good marketer when he sees one.
***thinks bd is far more difficult than marketing, he might be right in that I know there is far more stress with a quota

Marketing IS in the Middle: Adam Shapiro

Everyone is in sales, especially marketing or at least marketing is in the middle of the business operations and sales.  Adam Shapiro is a long term sales leader and has spent the last couple of years building out market, product positioning and sales execution models for companies as the President of MS Strategies.  Adam also blogs at Sales Reform School, so check him out, since as a Lawyer turned sales leader he writes some interesting stuff.  Adam provides some interesting views on why Marketing is in the Middle in his thoughts/feedback below.

What marketing roles have you had and in what markets?

I am a sales and marketing process consultant.  For the past four years, I have helped my clients translate their brand and marketing message into conversational tools and processes for collateral, web sites, and one to one conversations.  Most of my clients provide technology tools or services to their customers, but I have also helped consultancies and  more service-oriented businesses.

When you look at your career in marketing, what discipline/component have you found most interesting/challenging?

Most interesting to me is that so many successful people are “intuitives”; that is, they go about their careers working from the seat of their pants rather than a process.  This works well until they have to expand their responsibilities to others within or outside their teams.  Knowledge transfer, coaching, managing, etc. fails because there is no “playbook.”

What do you feel the most important component of a successful marketing gig?  (Product, Brand, Positioning)

Integration with other teams that are stakeholders.  Too often, marketer’s efforts are either unappreciated, underutilized, or in the worst case, miss their mark because sales, customer service, product management, etc. were not involved or considered.

If you could design the perfect corporate environment for a marketer to be successful what would that be?

Sales, marketing and product management are on the same page about what the market needs or wants and how the company’s offerings help with those needs or attain those goals.  There’s a feedback loop between business teams so marketing plans are embraced and there’s follow through when input or output is necessary.

How far is this from reality?

Close for my clients; not so close others.  That’s why I am in business.

Kill the cheerleader – improve communications


Despite multiple people informing me to the contrary – I consider myself a man of the people, with that comes some union stewardship activities within the organization. Not a true beat people up with baseball bats union role, more of a “hey, I’m noticing “X” in the organization and blah, blah….”. Essentially I’m always willing to hint “maybe we should look at X” to management kinda guy. I know, how un-[tag]proletariat[/tag] of me – but I do think [tag]middle management[/tag] has the best position to drive change and improvement.


Nevertheless – so what is the cheerleader? It’s both a persona and a group mentality, at some point, I’ll write on the persona as part of Stuck in the Middle, but it’s the Corporate Cheer Culture which represents an erosion of corporate-wide execution and what I want to rant about today which may help middle managers be more effective and improve corporate communications.

The cheerleader mentality can easily be recognized: it’s when just doing your job – the job for which you are paid for – becomes a corporate-wide messaging platform from which senior executives send ad-hoc, real-time blackberry-driven snippets to the organization to prove who is the most transparent and dedicated member of the leadership team. Let’s put it in context of [tag]Bring it On[/tag]:

Isis: Where we come from, ‘cheer’ is not a word you hear very often…
Lava: They should call us ‘inspiration leaders’ instead.
Jenelope: Ooo, that’s deep… I like that

Often it starts with the line executive who feels the need to send a “who’s awake” message and prove that they are not really sleeping in their bed, with the initial non-global email that declares project completion at 2 am on a Saturday, which get escalated to the whole organization due to him/her having global distribution list sending rights.   The two word “GREAT JOB!!!!” [tag]email[/tag]s lack originality….

Missy: You ripped off those cheers!
Torrance Shipman: Excuse me, Missy, our cheers are 100% original. Count the trophies!
Missy: Well, your trophies are bullshit, and you’re a sadass liar.
Torrance Shipman: All right, that’s it! Get out of the car, I’m gonna kick your ass!

Communication of project accomplishments should typically remain internal to the group participants or team and leverage a more formal vehicle for corporate-wide communications to be done by the CEO or a similar GM level role.   Not all projects are worthy of corporate-wide communication, and some departments, by their nature have more “projects,” which if the communications plan and policies aren’t well managed, could ultimately suggest a preferred team over another.  For example, IT has all kinds of projects, but Collections…not so much.

Unbalanced, ad-hoc and unstructured communications to an entire organization does not solve for the “you don’t communicate enough” complaint which is never satiated by more communication – really!

Effective communication should start with middle management and be group-oriented. While not an article on general communication on a Hill and Knowlton blog, it is still an important framework to use for the “great job team” stuff, paraphrased:

  • How do you manage culture change/improvement?
  • Where are the middle managers in the communication process?
  • How can you increase your credibility as communicators and the credibility of your communication channels?
  • How can we better use measurement to bolster our communication?

If a “great job” communications plan for the whole company doesn’t address the items above, then it basically degrades to promoting and public recognition for a team which is essentially doing what they are paid for.

If, however, middle management institutes a post-completion, “lessons learned” step into the project plan that promotes coaching and further growth, the company will be better off – every project has coaching opportunities, and global “great job” emails minimize the opportunity to strengthen individual teams and eliminate the effectiveness of more strategic corporate-wide communications which leverage formal or established channels.

Think about it – if the VP of Human Resources sends a 1 line great job email and the line Executive rights a missive on great execution, a little hard to coach most people. Everyone has an ego and an artifact in their inbox to PROVE they did well, regardless of the opportunity for improvement.

Corporate cheerleaders need to determine when and how they will communicate encouragement and appreciation to the entire team.   Again another Bring it On thought:

Sparky: I am a choreographer. That’s what I do. You are cheerleaders. Cheerleaders are dancers who have gone retarded.

Perhaps group email love-fests for the whole organization are just bad choreography from a limited leader who wants folks to know what they are doing and how important THEY were in organizing/leading the effort.  There are more sparky’s than one would think on most [tag]leadership[/tag] teams.