Three Mandatory Next Steps For Marketing Leaders

Consulting with some of the best companies in the U.S. over many years it becomes very clear where the biggest room for improvement is for most marketing leaders and chief marketing officers. For most they are a product of their experience and previous coaches and mentors along the way. In other words they don’t know any better sometimes. There are consistent patterns with most leaders in marketing that can help us understand where they should put time and energy to lead the organization to a better tomorrow. The three areas are as follows:

1.) Learn Much Faster: Most organizations learn at a snails pace if at all. Few document their learning and take a “hard stop” to discuss what they have learned as a team. Taking a “hard stop” and being deliberate about “learning or teachable moments” is a very powerful exercise and benefits every level of the organization. Whether it is your ego and/or fear of this discussion start doing this immediately. It is worth every minute of your time. After every key event, discussion, presentation stop the group and ask “what did you just learn?”. As a leader you must mentor the group by clearly stating what you learned and by showing that you have much to learn. Try to eliminate the peer pressure for everyone to have all the answers all the time.

If someone has all the answers then the questions are likely not tough enough OR you really haven’t set the bar that high for your objective(s). Bottomline, when the fear is gone the team will ask even more difficult questions that have a greater chance of moving the business ahead.

Try new methods of research, innovation, marketing program development, etc. to help you go faster. Challenge your historical choices in outside partners/agencies, methods, systems, etc. to find ways to move MUCH faster. In some cases your partners and approaches need to change dramatically and that could include replacing them with a faster approach.

Key Next Step: After every key meeting, presentation, review ask the group to feed back what they specifically learned. Have the appropriate team write-up the learning so it can be in the files for future reference. Force the team to “internalize” the learning and its implications. This is very powerful and will produce great dividends for the business. Try to encourage the team to say “I don’t know” when they don’t and be vulnerable to the group. Then help them develop a learning plan to find out!

2.) Go “All-In” To Help Develop IP: Developing new patents is not just the job of R&D. IP is incredibly valuable and actually a “legal monopoly” but a lot of marketers never even think about it. You need to lead and participate as a leader and CMO as it is a tool that can produce superior long-term success. You can hold margins and keep competition in the dust far easier with a patent than a marketing campaign.

But you must stop outsourcing your responsibility on breakthrough new ideas to the technical group and start collaborating with them in a true partnership. Marketing has a tendency to keep their hands clean from such activities to the detriment of breakthrough results. Years ago I worked with a very large CPG food company and my team went to their biggest plant to make some prototypes. The team at the plant said they had never seen anyone from marketing in the past. Unfortunately I wasn’t shocked and we proceeded to work with them for three days. We developed novel new ideas that took the collaboration of marketing and product development to develop. Neither group would have likely developed the concepts or prototypes on their own. We were covered “head-to-toe” with various food ingredients by the end of the day but it worth it. If you don’t ask your team to take the plunge and show this level of commitment you are missing a huge opportunity to make a leap in your business. But you need to do it first so they see how important it is.

Key Next Steps: You need to ask your marketing team to be “all-in”. There are things they can learn ONLY when they jump right in and fully collaborate with the rest of the organization, particularly product development. You must insist upon this early and often so that the more junior members of the organization understand there right expectations. Regrettably, marketing has become to many a job where you spend all of your time managing others to do all of your work…i.e. research firms, agencies, innovation firms, pr firms, etc. This is not the craft of marketing and we must lead our organizations to be true partners and entrepreneurial again side-by-side with the key partners in the business.

3. ) Break Down The Functional Silos: There is a growing number of organizations where the silo walls are up even higher and very rigid. Marketing is often right in the middle of these challenges. Even when there is success in another function the importance of holding onto their power and influence in marketing is more important than working together for the greater good of the company. The “not invented here” syndrome is so alive and well that it can be maddening. But I must admit that a lot of this starts from the top of the marketing organization and they reinforce this behavior.

As a leader you need to be the role model that has sincere dialogue and collaboration with other functional groups. You should demand that your organization has sincere dialogue with the rest of the organization and if it takes formal, regular meetings to ensure that happens then attend as much as possible so they know it is very important. Lastly, it is important to verify with the other functional groups that the marketing group are team players and the relationships are open, honest, productive and focused on the same mission and objectives. Encourage feedback sessions both ways to break down barriers to success.

Key Next Steps: Develop a plan with the marketing team to make a giant leap forward on sincere and productive collaboration with other functional groups. Role model behavior that truly puts the overall company mission and goals above any objectives in the marketing department. This starts with listening and understanding that great ideas for marketing can come from other functional experts. It is critical to do this in “public” with the rest of the organization and with your team in “private” so they know you are committed to greater collaboration and you truly value input from others.

Bruce Hall is President of Eureka! Inventing. The firm consults with blue-chip companies to develop systems and breakthrough results for growth and innovation. They have successfully worked with dozens of Fortune 500 companies over the years to deliver exception growth that is repeatable over time. Bruce has held senior marketing positions at Procter & Gamble, Novartis, Coca-Cola and American Express.

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