Over the past few years in particular, there have been numerous articles from recruiters and executives talking about the characteristics that need to be in place to build a strong marketing team, one that can flourish through the many twists, turns, challenges and advancements which are happening every day in our ultra-technical, ultra-networked professional lives. Most of what I’ve seen or read is vague, like a “top 10 tips” for CMO’s in building a next-gen marketing team which include suggestions like “build a team of team builders” (duh) or “empower your employees” (double-duh) or “foster innovation” (triple-duh). Aren’t these suggestions kind of fluffy and sort of “101″ in terms of building ANY team, not just in marketing and the creative field?
I say yes, and there have been very few articles that specifically apply to marketing which take into the consideration the dynamic nature of the field. Marketing is about effective communication, and sometimes that occurs by playing a customer service role and sometimes it occurs by being an evangelist or leader. I know a thing or two about building marketing and creative teams, because I’ve done it my entire professional career, and I have a tried and true template for creating a successful environment of achievement.
So I present to you here three concise areas to focus on if you’re a Marketing Chief or even if you’re a marketing employee with aspirations on becoming the head of a department or marketing company someday:
Create The Right Mindset, Hire & Keep People with that Mindset, and Maintain Balance.
1) Creating the Right Mindset: At most companies or in most businesses, I’ve found that instilling the right mindset inside your Marketing team is the most important thing to do. What does that mean? A mindset of customer service AND of leadership. Corporate marketers have to wear their service hats sometimes, and sometimes they have to lead and show a path to others at the company (and outside the company). For instance, in most businesses, marketing has to be closely aligned with the Sales team and has to feel comfortable getting some level of feedback from them. Sales has their fingers on the pulse of their clients or customers, and they know their clients needs best. So hubris on the marketing team goes out the door, and there very much needs to be a service mindset in place. BUT, the other side of having the right mindset is the confidence to stand up and lead – whether through branding initiatives, positive public relations, or custom-crafted events or client incentives. A strong marketing team has both mindsets and should be able to flip the switch back and forth through the course of a day, week, month and quarter.
2) Hire and Keep People with that Mindset: Your team should look relatively homogeneous in one way; with people’s prevailing mindset. What I laid out above needs to be the gospel of the team. When you hire or build your team either through internal promotion or external applicants, look for people who are both confident and humble, able to lead and have a track record of leadership, but also with a team mentality that translates into strong customer service. If you believe that marketing fundamentally is about effective communication regardless of the platform or execution (I do), you will need people who can be evangelists when necessary, and strong listeners and problem-solvers when necessary. If people don’t possess the ability to do both, or the desire to learn the ability to do both, then likely they won’t be as effective on a 21st century marketing team. If you do find people who fit this profile, hang onto them because they are tough to find.
3) Maintaining Balance: Let’s be honest…today’s corporate marketing teams need to be good at basically everything. Marketing is the most dynamic function at any business or company. It is a marketing teams’ job to know what is going on inside the company and more broadly across the marketplace. If a marketing team is only good at one thing or a couple things, they won’t get very far. Likewise, if they know everything going on within the industry or with competitors but fail to understand their businesses’ own offerings and limitations, they won’t get very far. Excuse the metaphor, but a marketer’s toolkit must be filled to the brim and the team has to know how to use all the tools proficiently. Creative services and design, social media, event marketing, cause marketing, public relations, blogging, branding, direct response, print & digital, trade marketing, trade shows, public speaking, and sales support are just a few of the tools the team needs to know how to use. In fact, the most balanced marketing teams can do all of these when called upon or when they believe it is most appropriate proactively. Always maintaining this balance and honing new skills and talents is the key for survival almost universally.
Truly, when I have built successful teams, those are the three areas I focus on. The tips a lot of pundits give in building strong marketing teams, while well-meaning, I don’t believe apply too much. When a resume hits my desk, there are a certain number of things that are prerequisites and that I know will be on there, and therefore I don’t focus on them. I focus on what is not on the resume, the intangibles, because it is a lot easier to find people with a certain set of skills or who have done x, y and z before; but it is a lot tougher to find people with the right mindset and balanced, well-rounded perspective. When you do, you’ll be on your way to building a real stand-out team.