Characteristics of a Marketing Leader
Operate Like an Exec at Any Level
We recently had a really great conversation in the Exit Five community which I wanted to share with you today (7 day free trial if you’re not a member).
Someone prompted the group on what makes someone a great marketing leader. What does it take to be viewed as an executive?
In my opinion, even if your goal is not to become a CMO one day, these principles will make any marketer more effective and impactful.
I think the following summarizes some of what makes that so:
- Seen as an expert inside and outside of the organization and a thought leader
- A top domain expert in your field
The first CMO I ever worked with told me: whatever you do in marketing, be a student in it.
Today’s marketers are sort of pressured to be stereotypical thought leaders, and I know we’re not all made of the right stuff for this.
Start by engaging in your domain outside of work - listen to podcasts, read the books written by practitioners, build a network for yourself of people sharing ideas.
Even if you don’t become a “thought leader,” this will result in something good and you will be stronger for it.
- What is your span/sphere of influence? Are you regularly interfacing with the exec team/does the exec team know who you are?
- Respected and effective at all levels of the organization
It takes a long track record of effectiveness and helping other functions to get here. If you are collaborative and get shit done across the org, others will do the same for you.
Early on in my career, I had a great working relationship with the design team...and they expedited a lot of my projects because of it. Similarly, I had to help them with copy/whatever when they needed a hand. Later on, I worked closely with success to create really great marketing content for customers. They had to share their precious time with me, and I had to make sure the content was worth that investment.
Working collaboratively, and rallying other teams to support your work makes marketing so much better/faster/easier.
Own Initiatives That Are The CEO's Top Priority
I know marketers who won’t take a job unless they know that marketing is one of the CEOs top priorities. I don’t disagree, but we can’t all be so picky, so lucky, or so senior.
When I was just getting started in my career, someone on my team quit and we needed a stand-in while we hired a new person. I had no idea what I was doing (like truly) but I volunteered to help.
If you start being this person, who jumps in at critical moments and supports your direct manager, you’ll grow into the person who’s trusted with large, important things.
It’s definitely not the easiest option, and working on CEO-priority-level projects is also no walk in the park. It opens you up to more stress, scrutiny, higher expectations, etc… but it’s the path that leads to great work and exec-level contribution.
- Do you set the strategy, prioritize, and advocate for that strategy across the org (the marketing team, founders, other execs, board, etc)?
- Do you know your numbers? If somebody asks you about pipeline or revenue, do you have to ask them to wait while you look it up, or is this a top-of-mind metric for you?
- Guards strategy against “random acts of marketing”
Jason Lemkin has a great heuristic for helping founders tell the difference between a marketing exec vs an individual contributor.
If you ask them - what should our budget be? The marketer should be able to work into an estimate based on ARR today, plus goals for tomorrow, divided by ACV, with some math based on close rates and funnel conversion. Being able to work from a goal/outcome, into a budget or a strategy demonstrates a level of understanding of the system of marketing. And the types of outcomes that tactics drive.
Not every function will set a budget in this way. But the skill that matters here, which every marketer should have, is to take a goal or an outcome, and make a plan for how to hit that outcome. This may include hiring additional resources, advocating for budget, pulling in people from another team, bringing in new software to get it done etc.
And once the strategy is set, you guard it with your life. Constantly refer back to it, and remind people why you're doing the things you're doing. It sounds fun to create branded dog bandanas, but what initiative does it fit into?
Marketing tactics are french fries, and everyone thinks they can eat just one more. But throwing in fries haphazardly over time overpowers the meal.
Hiring and developing talent
- Do you hire/attract talent and know who to hire? Do people follow you from job to job?
- How do you manage and develop people on your team (and are people on the team ready to be promoted?
- People under this leader go on to become successful leaders within the company.
People talk about how important this is all the time, but it’s something you have to see to really understand. I’ve been at companies with execs who can easily hire their best former coworkers, and find outside talent where there are gaps. It makes a huge difference.
Once the team is hired, you can 1) address issues the moment they happen, push everyone on the team to be great and remove people when it's not a good fit. This also means you promote people when they deserve it and play an active role in their development. Or 2) let low performance linger and have a negative impact on everyone.
Again - any of this can be done at any level in marketing. And you don't need a C or V-level title to carry an executive presence. Keep striving.