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Thomas Barta

The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader


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Marketing teams: getting the mix of people right


What's the most important role of a senior marketer? To bring on board and develop a marketing team with the right mix of skills for driving forward the most valuable areas of the business.

Twenty-first century marketing is suffering from a skills crisis. The sector is confused about its priorities – a well-justified focus on digital and data skills often arrives at the expense of other important areas which are being neglected.

Digital transformation is high on the agenda of most company CEOs. And they expect their top marketers to play a big role in it. All too often, however, leaders focus only on recruiting for the right technical skills. But a mix of skills is critical for success.

Marketing departments are becoming more analytical and complex

The same can be said for most other business functions, none of which is impervious to new technologies, processes and regulation.

This raises analytical, creative and organisational challenges: as a marketing leader, you need to decide which marketing techniques to use and how to combine them in terms of structure and skills.

For instance, what is the best way to optimise the skills of, and relationship between, the data analytics team, the market research team, outside suppliers of technology and insight, and those marketing decisions?

While all business functions face a digital skills challenge, marketing faces it in spades. However, despite burgeoning digital media and data-based marketing, the basic role and nature of strategic and creative marketing hasn’t changed.

Don’t get bogged down in the skills swamp

Most marketers today feel swamped by all the new tactical marketing opportunities.

Too often though, learning these new skills takes too much energy away from a marketer’s main task: coming up with and executing the ideas that drive customer-focused innovation and profitable revenue.

Their own and their team’s skills are an issue for every marketing leader.

When you first started out as a marketer, your priority was to develop your own functional marketing skills.

But as you take responsibility for leading others, even as a junior team leader, your role changes. Increasingly, it’s about recruiting, developing and motivating people with the right technical and human skills – the ability to listen, collaborate, keep going and inspire.

The best teams perform well, sustainably, and under pressure – without the leader’s close supervision.

Many marketers find the transition from marketing expert to marketing team leader hard. Why?

Because they are used to being on top of the details and feel threatened by the increasing pace and complexity of what’s happening. They struggle to stay focused on the bigger picture and delegate the executional details to the technical experts on their team.

To build a great team, you need a brutally simple approach

As a leader, don’t just build a support team. Instead, build an influential team of marketing leaders to help the whole company expand the particular area where your company creates most value by meeting both customer and company needs.

I call this the value-creation zone or V-Zone for short..

In research I co-authored with Patrick Barwise, Emeritus Professor of Management and Marketing at London Business School, getting the team mix right was the single biggest driver of senior marketers’ business impact with a huge relative contribution of 20%.

You need to develop a team with the right mix of skills for what you are trying to achieve. This sounds like an obvious, motherhood statement, but the evidence is that too few marketers are doing it.

Recruit for distinctiveness

When building a team, clarity matters.  Focus on the things your team must truly excel at to achieve your specific aims in your specific market.

Think about both analytical and creative skills, and the personality traits that matter most: do you especially need ‘big ideas’ people who are entrepreneurial, analytical, numbers people, or executional people with a lot of stamina and attention to detail?

Ideally, you’ll have all of these, but which are the top one or two traits that will really make a difference? 

Getting the team mix right was the single biggest driver of senior marketers’ business impact with a huge relative contribution of 20%.

Then, summarise your main challenge to expand the V-Zone.

For instance, your priority may be to increase margins by improving the retention and contribution of the most profitable customers, or to increase market share by better serving customer needs in a particular segment.

Whatever your V-Zone challenge, clarity about it will greatly help you decide the right skills mix for the team.

Try creating a skills-and-traits sheet to be crystal clear about what you’re aiming for.

Don’t draft a foot-long list of qualities you are looking for in a new hire.

Instead, think about the few key qualities that make an individual distinctive and home-in on those, whether it be distinctive personality traits or particular skills which are most needed in your team.

You should also also think about which traits are a ‘no no’ for your team. You can afford to recruit a few characters as ‘grit in the oyster’ to challenge the majority’s views. But you don’t want too many of them.

Think about the people you would like to spend time with.

Diverse teams will certainly enrich the ideas and energy of every marketing department.

Consider networks and networking skills

A successful team often includes members who give them access to important networks.

For example, if product development is critical to your aims, hire someone with good contacts in the company’s product development group. It makes bridging the silos so much easier.

Try to think about the internal and external networks you need to access, and look for people who have the relevant contacts and skills.

Building leadership skills

Most teams are seemingly within a never-ending skills transformation. Which skills do you need internally and which should you buy in?

As a rule of thumb, if a skill can become a significant long-term competitive advantage, build it in-house. Procter & Gamble, for example, runs its own advertising effectiveness research, because it sees this as an important long-term competitive asset.

If a skill could set you apart from your competitors, don’t outsource it – build it internally. Build cross-functional as well as functional skills – for marketers, a stint in sales can be especially valuable.

A team’s skills need constant adjustment – people develop and move on.

Structured skills training, if it doesn’t already exist, should be in place for marketers’, especially for the first two to five years in the job.

But when building technical skills, think about leadership skills too. Agenda shaping, stepping up to mobilise colleagues, building effective marketing teams, and leading marketing with purpose are fundamental building blocks for a leadership training programme aimed at marketers.

Tailored marketing leadership is the better (and more cost-effective) programme.

A team’s skills need constant adjustment – people develop and move on.

The good news is that building and aligning a properly skilled marketing team is less difficult than it sounds. But to do it well, you’ll need to put in time and energy – even if this means spending less time trying to keep your own technical marketing skills and knowledge up to date.

Interested in finding out more about this topic? Read 'Micro-learning and the maturity of marketers'.

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Thomas Barta


Read more from Thomas Barta

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