MarketingProfs’ B2B Marketing Forum 2016 in Boston featured some really interesting, engaging and useful sessions from a wide range of experienced marketers.
One of the best parts was just picking up stacks of great advice from seasoned B2B professionals who’ve been there, done that and got… probably more t-shirts than they care to admit.
One of those sessions, “From Modern Marketer to CMO to CEO,” offered a particularly long list of helpful career tips, courtesy of three highly experienced marketing professionals with very different personal/professional journeys.
Each of these veteran marketers has taken a different path in their careers, making for a diverse mix of approaches. Yet a number of common themes and advice were shared, which B2B marketers of all stripes could benefit from (I certainly found them interesting!). In fact, many of these tips are just plain good professional advice for marketers and non-marketers alike.
So here are 8 tips to marketing success – courtesy of 3 experts who know what they’re talking about:
Find your specialty – then go back and make sure you’re well-rounded
Responding to a question about the comparative merits of working at large vs. small companies, Doug Bewsher suggested gaining experience in both was key to his success: “Build your spikes in big companies, get your breadth of experience in small companies.”
Every marketer needs to find his or her “spike” — that is, “the one thing they’re really, really good at” — and own it.
But he qualified that to climb the career ladder, at some point you’ll have to get back to basics and ensure you can handle yourself in other areas of marketing too. The more senior you become, the more important it becomes to hold your own across different marketing sub-disciplines.
Few companies can offer both experiences; larger organizations with bigger marketing departments will allow you to focus on a specific area, whereas smaller companies or startups usually require a more all-hands-on-deck approach.
Doug credited his time at Salesforce for finding his “spike”, while moving to the startup sector shifted his perspective and allowed him to round out more.
Understand your value – and realize what you don’t know
To get to where you want to be in your career, you need to first appreciate where you stand right now.
That’s as much about realizing what you don’t know or aren’t so good at, so you can know when you need to develop your skills, delegate, or otherwise fill in the gaps.
To quote Margaret Molloy, successful marketers need to find the balance between “delivering great work that you can be proud of, and still stretching yourself and building some more muscle.”
“While it’s wonderful to be ambitious, it’s also important to develop competencies and to actually do a good job in the role that you’re in, and then get to a point where you’re stretching yourself.”
It’s a tough balance to get right. On the one hand, you need to deliver results, which can be done most effectively by playing to your existing strengths. However, leaning too hard on a few skillsets won’t help you develop further, so at some point, you’ll have to step beyond your comfort zone if you really want to succeed.
Think strategically about what skills you want or need to add or brush up on. Doug for example noted that CMOs — and of course CEOs — would need to master a wider range of skills, such as understanding financials.
Don’t spend more time on the balcony than on the dance floor
I’ve probably thrown you with that imagery, but it was a very helpful metaphor offered by Margaret Molloy to describe the “balance between being strategic and executing.”
Obviously marketing requires careful planning and strategizing. But the panelists all warned against being to strategic at the cost of not actually doing what needs to be done. We’ve all been there; an emphasis on process in all manner of organizations can sometimes feel suffocating.
Remember: your scarcest resource is time. If you spend all your time contemplating doing things, you’ll miss the boat.
This closely relates to the above tip, and is particularly relevant in a profession (B2B marketing) where the temptation is to make the simple appear much more complicated.
Molloy described her role as CMO as “Chief Simplifier”. Whether it’s shaping a marketing messaging or executing marketing ops, all agreed that the most effective approaches were usually the simplest.
To quote Molloy: “Diversifying your networks is just as important as building a wide network.”
We all know networking is important; but here as well, stepping beyond your personal comfort zone is key to moving forward.
This is true both online and offline. Social media — particularly LinkedIn and Twitter — can be great vehicles for online networking. All too often, however, such platforms function effectively as echo chambers, with people following or liking people and pages which speak to their own opinions or worldview.
The more you expand your networking horizons, the more opportunities you create for yourself.
Enjoy what you’re doing now, and don’t dwell too much on where you think you need to be
Yes, you should be planning ahead, but Bewsher says it’s key to “balance being prescriptive with gut instinct.”
If you enjoy what you’re doing right now, don’t move onto something your gut tells you you might regret, even if it’s the traditional or recommended route to CMO, CEO, or whatever your longer-term aspirations are. You need to follow a path, and you need to be rational about it — but sometimes you need to trust your gut instincts as well.
Be a “constructive agitator”
Seeking out conflict is never a good thing, but if you’re too afraid of it you won’t get very far in any profession either.
Or as Molloy put it: “There are times in your career when you have to have the tough conversations.”
Though she stresses that feedback or criticism should be delivered “in a gracious style” as much as possible, she suggested that being a “constructive agitator” was the happy medium between being too combative and too conflict-averse.
Just make sure to never publicly scold someone (online or offline).
Don’t fear failure
Perhaps the most important piece of advice of all.
Everyone can afford to make a few mistakes in their career, so don’t be afraid to try new things or push yourself. Playing it safe all the time means you’ll never stretch yourself or discover your true potential.