Attributes of an effective marketing leader, part 6: competence

Keeping things moving

I was in an annual plan review meeting last week with the president and CMO of one of our clients. The president started the meeting by congratulating the relatively new CMO on “re-establishing the credibility of the marketing function.” I wish I could say that all marketing leaders have the trust and respect of their companies, but that would not be true. Which leads me to this week’s attribute: competence.

For marketing leaders to earn the respect they need to affect positive change, demonstrating competence in three key areas is important: marketing, business management and people. Let’s start with marketing, the discipline that is central to a CMO or other marketing leader. There are five key dimensions to marketing management and the CMO must have competence in each.

  1. Customers/market segments: Do you understand the needs and aspirations of your customers? Can you distinguish the unique needs and behaviors of different segments? Do you know how to assess which segments are the most profitable? Can you distill actionable insights from the segments that matter most?
  2. Products: Do you demonstrate an understanding of what your company offers? Can you carry on a meaningful conversation about the underlying technologies, methodologies or capabilities needed to deliver your products or services? Are you able to debate the trade-offs associated with making good product decisions? In these debates do you represent market segment needs and implications effectively? Do you assure that all your offerings reflect a consistent brand promise?
  3. Geographies: Do you understand the uniqueness of different geographic markets, whether domestic or international? Are there important cultural distinctions? Legal or regulatory issues? “Home team” or “visiting team” brand perceptions? Attitudes about the category? Economic conditions? Other factors that need to be understood in order to optimize your efforts in each geography?
  4. Sales channels: Do you understand how your sales system works, whether direct or indirect or both? Is your demand model sales-driven or marketing-driven? Can you demonstrate a linkage between marketing activities and sales results? Do you understand the business models of your key channel partners and how those models affect you actions? Can you evaluate new channel options effectively? Do you know the levers in mitigating channel conflict? Do you converse with sales management in a way that demonstrates your interest in helping them make quota?
  5. Communications channels: Do you understand all the communications vehicles available to you today? Do you know how to evaluate their efficacy? Can you distill your message so it is communicated effectively through the uniqueness of each medium? Are you able to ensure that your brand is consistently represented in all media? Are you ready to engage customers in multidimensional, transparent social conversations?

Demonstrating competency in your discipline is necessary but not sufficient in and of itself. You must also show that you know how the marketing discipline affects your business.

  1. Do you make sound business decisions and communicate the rationale clearly?
  2. Do you have a handle on how your forecasts and product complexity have an impact on operations?
  3. Can you model the impact of pricing changes on profitability? The impact of campaigns on call volumes, store traffic or website activity? The impact of new market initiatives on revenue?
  4. Are you able to balance the benefits of special offers and social media exposure with the potential legal and image risks?

Moving from leading a “staff function” to having a “seat at the big table” requires you to demonstrate that you add value at the business level, not just the functional level.

Finally, for you to have the trust and respect of the organization, you must embrace the fact that you can’t go it alone and you need to make progress with and through other people. I have seen brilliant minds fail as marketing leaders because they did not demonstrate a competence in leading and managing other human beings. Communication skills are clearly important, listening and speaking. People want to know you care about them and they can trust you. Developing a high level of emotional intelligence helps and empathy is a good place to start. There are five dimensions of engaging your fellow employees that may help you succeed in this area.

  1. Do you demonstrate the values, mission and culture of the company in a way that your team feels they belong in it and are proud to be associated with it?
  2. Are you effective at helping them understand the goals of the organization and at clarifying their roles in achieving those goals?
  3. Can you inspire confidence in your team so that it believes in the direction, goals and leadership of the company?
  4. Do you demonstrate through actions that team members are supported in their roles to fulfill the mission and achieve the stated goals?
  5. Are you proficient at providing feedback, rewards and recognition in a way that makes your team feel appreciated?

Marketing leadership is not easy. Being competent in all aspects of the job is rare. But being aware of your weaknesses in any or all of these areas can help you forge alliances and engage with mentors who can strengthen your capabilities and improve your probability of success. So what are you doing today that will enhance your competence as a marketing leader?