Leading a marketing team that delivers is not easy. There are more accountability demands on marketing leaders than ever before. You must show how you contribute to the bottom line and request budget for projects that might not immediately deliver sales conversions. Marketing job functions have the highest turnover rates.
Adding to these challenges, effective marketing teams have to blend attention-grabbing creative with business acumen, statistical analysis, data intelligence, and analytics. This is the first in a series of posts I’m calling “Victory Lap Marketing.” My hope is to bring you success by sharing some wisdom I’ve gained over 20 years of leading marketing teams.
Hire team members with the same value set
When I started the agency, I thought I should hire the most brilliant creatives or experienced analytics experts. Wrong. If brilliant overachievers don’t have similar values, they will butt heads and vie for dominance.
Team members should be respectful of each other and you (a value), responsive to clients and each other (a value), and place a high priority on communication skills (a value), and want to continuously learn (yep, a value).
Even one team member that doesn’t fit with your team’s values can degrade performance tremendously. Before starting an agency, I worked as the head of marketing at a startup. The CEO fired the lead developer, because although he was brilliant and a prolific coder, he continually gossiped and berated the leadership team.
It was a tough loss, but the minute that guy was gone, the air in the building changed. Everyone started smiling again. One bad apple can truly ruin the barrel, so address toxic people issues quickly and seriously.
Trust your team members
“I’m going to give you enough rope to climb the mountain or hang yourself. You make the choice.” This is what my boss told me during my second month on the job before giving a presentation to the C-suite of a Fortune 50 company. I was 24, and one of four women in a group of almost 200 engineers.
At the time I would have liked a little more “belay support” on that mountain, but boy his attitude gave me a boatload of confidence knowing he trusted me to get the job done and not embarrass him.
I try to give team members enough opportunities to push them out of the comfort nest, and practice, while still being there to support and teach them when needed.
Transparently communicate as much as you ethically can
While you can’t share an impending equity event or possibility of a partnership out of legal and regulatory concerns, you probably can share more information than you currently are.
Communicate roadmaps, leadership growth expectations, and budgetary restrictions. Involve your team in marketing audits, budget forecasts, and marketing tech stack decisions.
Let folks know when they are not meeting expectations and put together an improvement plan. Don’t let subpar performance fester because you don’t want to have an uncomfortable conversation.
Don’t inadvertently foster backstabbing
If team members have issues with each other, encourage them to work it out between themselves. If you speak to them individually, then you will be seen by both parties as taking sides.
Kim Scott gave an insightful TED Talk on giving guidance and minimizing intra-team conflict.
Fess up when you make a mistake
Don’t be a blame thrower. People respect you when you own up to errors as a leader, and they feel more confident expressing their failings as well. Create a culture in which it’s okay to fail and improve as a way of learning.
Have sounding “boards” outside work
As previously stated, marketing today is HARD. You’ll need help in guiding decisions and noodling branding and campaigns.
If you have access to a corporate board member or formal mentors, then consider yourself lucky and be sure to tap into those resources for advice, guidance, and a good laugh now and again. If you don’t have an official mentor, then consider joining a leadership or marketing group in your area. I drive 45 miles to a Women Presidents Group chapter because of the camaraderie and advice I get during our monthly meetings. I love the support and friendships I’ve developed at the Healthcare and IT Marketing Community (HITMC) conference. I also have a few close friends and past clients I can try ideas out on or email for quick advice.
Make time for you… outside work
Pursuing a hobby, sport, or volunteering are not only going to charge your body battery, but they will make you a more creative person that can relate to your prospects. Whether you’re in healthcare or technology marketing, your target audience is made up of humans who also have things they like to do outside work.
I’ve made contacts with people on LinkedIn who read my stories relating marketing to running, kayaking, gardening, and golf. People like a good metaphor and getting yourself outside of the office will help you create great analogies that stick.
Are you enjoying the ride?
Marketing leaders that tether themselves to desks are burned out and boring. We’re in a creative, messy profession for a reason. You get to lead interesting people. You can craft and create almost every day, which is a privilege that not many careers offer.
Celebrate the wins because marketing is hard work! We want to celebrate your wins with you, and help with the hard work. Let us know what we can take off your hands.