Although vitally important, the role of marketing leader is often overlooked. Usually it’s a great marketer that is promoted to lead the team regardless of their leadership experience.
Why? Because we’re so focused on having the right marketing strategy that leadership has taken a back seat.
Here’s my proof – there are 2x the Google searches for “marketing” as there are for “leadership.”
And here’s the problem – the skills that make a great marketer are not the same skills that make a great marketing leader.
And look where this lack of marketing leadership has gotten us:
73% of CEO’s think “marketers lack business credibility.” (Fournaise Marketing Group)
Only 9% of marketers “strongly agree” that their marketing is actually working. (Study by Adobe)
Most marketing teams are operating in pure chaos – juggling 87 priorities, constantly fighting for budget, and trying to prove that something is working while buried under an avalanche of emails.
But the best teams don’t operate this way (at least regularly). Because the best teams, the most successful teams, have a great marketing leader.
- Building a marketing team
- Making culture your foundation
- Hiring marketers
- Developing your marketing team
- Coaching marketers to greatness
- Teaching execution
- Motivating the team
I’m proposing a fix: What if we focused a bit more on the “leadership” part of the marketing leadership equation?
I’m not denying that optimizing a website is important, but is it more important than optimizing a team?
In her (awesome) book Multipliers, Liz Wiseman, explores the impact of leadership on a team. She found that bad leaders, or what she calls “Diminishers,” got just 20-50% of their team’s capability. A “Multiplier” on the other hand, 70-100%.
Under a great leader, team members buy-in, grow faster, produce better work, collaborate more effectively, and stay longer.
The result – the team becomes more than just the sum of its parts.
If you’re a new marketing leader, I have good news. Leadership is not something that you either have or don’t have. It can be learned.
In this article, we’ll cover the 3 most important responsibilities of a marketing leader.
- Building the team: A marketing leader sets a cultural foundation. Then they hire and retain a dream team of selfless marketers.
- Developing the team: A marketing leader graciously coaches team members to their full potential. They teach the team how to execute and how to win.
- Motivating the team: A marketing leader shares a bold vision and inspires participation.
Let’s dive in!
1. Building a marketing team
Culture is the foundation of every great marketing team
Your first job – make company culture your team’s foundation.
Notice that I said “company culture” and not “team culture.” While your team can have its own unique personality, it shouldn’t have its own culture. Your team must share a culture with your company.
If you create your own team culture, you’ll limit your team’s influence and ability to work effectively cross departmentally. You’ll find your marketing island drifting further and further from the rest of the company.
And here’s what I mean by culture – your company’s mission, vision, and values. These articulate how team members can live out the company culture. And while I love team building, team rituals, inside jokes, and happy hours, they aren’t a culture. If your company culture were a cake, those would be the sprinkles on top.
When everyone on the team aligns themselves around the same mission and values, the outcome is chemistry. Yes, chemistry – that rare, intangible fuel that drives teamwork.
Alignment = Chemistry
To make company culture the foundation of your team, you must buy into the culture. Then expect the same of your team.
Here’s how to infuse company culture:
- Memorize the company’s mission, vision, and values. Expect your team to do the same.
- Talk about the mission and values daily
- Select a different company value for your team to focus on every week
- When providing feedback or praise to a team member, tie the feedback to a specific company value.
And here’s the result:
- Alignment will create chemistry
- Chemistry supercharges your teamwork
- Chemistry opens the door for the team to have its own unique personality. Now, put those sprinkles on that culture cake. It’s time for team traditions, rituals, team building activities, and inside jokes. Looking for ideas? Check out this list of team building ideas.
Hire team members that align with your company culture
Not everyone will be a fit for your team and that’s totally ok. Here’s what to look for:
Look for people with an internal locus of control
According to Marine Corps University, “Locus of Control” refers to an individual’s perception about the underlying main causes of events in his/her life.” Basically, do they think they control outcomes in their life or are they always at the mercy of external forces?
People with an Internal Locus of Control believe they are responsible for their own success.
People with an External Locus of Control believe luck and external forces are responsible for the outcome of their life. They will never accept responsibility and will be impossible to coach. If they fail, it will be the leader or the company’s fault.
Here are questions to ask in interviews to suss out if they have an internal or external locus of control:
- What is your least favorite part of your current role? Why?
- If you had to give your current leader feedback, what would it be and why?
- What is your priority in a workplace?
I highly recommend reading, Motivation-based Interviewing by Carol Quinn. It takes a deep dive into this topic and will teach you how to identify candidates with an internal locus of control.
Hire positive people
At The Escape Game, we talk about “skunks & cookies.” Don’t you love the smell of fresh baked cookies? Everyone does. That’s what a positive attitude is like. It’s like a fresh cookie smell that makes everyone more positive and productive. Skunks stink. So do negative attitudes. Negative attitudes affect everyone. Complaining is contagious and it sucks the creativity right out of the room.
“Positivity is a prerequisite for creativity.” – Brian Mandel, Sr Director of Operations at The Escape Game.
Find people that align with your culture
You can’t afford to hire people that don’t align with your culture, no matter how talented they are.
What about technical skills?
Having a couple people on your team with very developed technical skills can be hugely helpful. Depending on the position, it might be essential. BUT, trust me, finding team members that are a culture fit and with an internal locus of control are even more important. I recommend hiring people ahead of their curve which means before they have fully developed. Before their curve people are hungry, coachable, and can be shaped into selfless marketing team members.
Retain your marketing dream team
This section will be short. If you follow the rest of this guide, you’ll retain team members (unless you’re paying very poorly). Retention is not about having the most perks and the absolute highest pay. Retention is about leadership. As you build your team, consistency will be incredibly valuable. It’s a benefit you’ll get as a result of developing your leadership.
Benefits of retaining your marketing team:
- Less time spent hiring and onboarding
- Less time spent transferring knowledge
- Team members develop a deep knowledge of the company, products, and customers
- Team members develop friendship and trust
2. Developing a marketing team
We’ve all heard the adage – hire the right people and get out of their way. While there’s definitely truth to this idea, it is overused and misunderstood. Many undeveloped marketing leaders use this concept as an excuse not to coach. It’s understandable – coaching can be very hard. While coaches get to celebrate, encourage, and empower, they also must push, provide regular feedback, and sometimes have difficult conversations.
But coaching is caring. If you really care about your team members, you’ll do everything you can to develop them and to see them succeed. Sparing team members from honesty robs them of the opportunity to improve. Neglecting to have the difficult conversation will stunt their career growth.
How to coach your marketing team
If you have a fear of coaching, let me introduce you to Danny Meyer’s concept of Constant Gentle Pressure. It’s a guide for anyone who needs to step up their coaching. Danny Meyer is a the founder of Shake Shack, writer of Setting the Table, and the creator of the best coaching framework I’ve ever encountered.
Here’s how it works:
Constant: Your guidance is consistent. You don’t provide feedback once a year at a review. You coach every single day. And you treat all of your team members the same. Tell your team to expect coaching. On the team, it’s part of the deal. Everyone should want to get better and must be coachable.
Gentle: When you provide feedback, it’s gracious. Your goal is never to embarrass or put a team member down. Feedback is given with empathy and care.
Pressure: On great teams, there’s pressure. Your team members should be under some level of healthy pressure to achieve.
So there’s pressure and that pressure is consistent but it is always gentle. Make it clear when you interview new team members that this is how the team operates.
Remove pressure and lose urgency.
Remove gentle and become a jerk.
Remove constant and give your team whiplash and instability.
CPG is not micromanaging, it’s leading. It’s developing. It’s coaching.
Expect your marketing team to develop themselves
As the leader, you should expect your team to develop themselves. You can’t be 100% responsible for their growth. Do professional athletes only practice when specifically asked to do so by their coach? Do great musicians only practice while being supervised by a teacher?
Set the expectation that if your team members aren’t growing themselves, they won’t be ready for the challenges ahead. It’s a requirement to study, to learn, and to grow.
This means team members should be reading books and blogs, listening to podcasts, meeting with others in their field, and possibly even taking online courses. Your team should be proactive and take responsibility for their own development.
Here are a few great resources:
- MarketingExamples.com (and CopywritingExamples.com)
- DemandCurve newsletter
- Ahrefs YouTube Channel (for SEO)
- Books: Traffic Secrets, Building a Storybrand, Marketing Made Simple, Talk Triggers, Hook Point, This is Marketing, Hacking Growth, Storytelling with Data, Contagious, Made to Stick
Teach your marketing team to win by teaching them to execute
Most marketing teams spend their days chasing a multitude of shiny new ideas, rarely executing any of them with excellence because they are always on to the next idea. It’s a chaotic existence and leads to wasted time and money.
The problem with many teams is not talent. It’s not ideas. It’s not a budget pinch. The problem is execution.
Did you know – winning is a skill as much as it is an outcome. Teams that learn to execute become winning teams. And according to Harvard Business Review, once a team or individual starts winning, they usually keep winning.
I call the execution framework below the Execution Ladder. When directing your team, start at the bottom of the ladder and work your way up. Most teams start at the top of the ladder. They are so distracted by the next idea that they fail to execute with excellence.
Explain to your team that they can expect things at the top of the ladder to change frequently. Stay flexible on those top couple rungs.
The Execution Ladder: Execution Framework for Marketing Teams
- Company culture: It all starts with company culture. Align around the mission, vision and values. Here at the bottom of the ladder, you’ll find a consistent foundation. And while there’s room for healthy debate further up the ladder, that’s not the case here. Everyone needs to get on board with the company culture or find another organization.
- Company goals and initiatives: Your marketing team exists to contribute meaningfully to your company’s loftiest goals and ideas. Don’t set department goals or individual performance metrics unless they contribute meaningfully to the current and top initiatives of the company as a whole.
- Team goals and initiatives: What can your marketing team accomplish that would most contribute to the company’s goals and initiatives. Is it ranking #1 on Google for a specific keyword? Is it generating 1,000 new leads per month? Set goals that if accomplished will move the company forward towards its goals.
- Individual Key Performance Indicators: Your team members need to know if they are winning or losing in their role. Individual members need measurement too. Select goals for team members that contribute to the rung below – team goals and initiatives.
- Tactics and strategies: Now it’s time for whiteboards, debates, and a flurry of ideas. Regardless of rank or title, may the best ideas win. And because you started at the bottom of the ladder and worked your way up, your team will gravitate towards the most impactful ideas instead of ones that are cool, fun, or clever.
Don’t beat yourself up if you are attempting the Execution Ladder and still find yourself distracted by shiny ideas and new marketing trends. Keep committing yourself to the process and teach your team to do the same. Teaching your team to execute is teaching your team to win. And that is the job of any great coach.
Teams that execute beat their competition – even when that competition has bigger teams, more experience, and massive budgets.
To dive deeper into the Execution Ladder and goal-setting strategies, read my marketing execution guide.
And if you’re looking for a great book on goal-setting, The 4 Disciplines of Execution is as good as it gets!
3. Motivating a marketing team
Whether or not you have natural “gravitas,” part of your role as marketing leader is to motivate your team and inspire them to take action. You’re not only a coach, you’re also a catalyst.
First cast a bold vision for your marketing team
A “vision” is a story that describes a triumphant end state. You must plant the picture of this triumphant end state in your team’s head consistently.
Unlike a goal, not all elements of a vision are precisely measurable and a vision is not always bound to a specific timeframe. Instead, a vision likely has a set of conditions that need to be met to be achieved.
- Your customer satisfaction scores will rival Chick-fil-a, Warby Parker, Tesla.
- In viral videos, customers will describe being surprised and delighted by your team.
- Case studies will be written about the team that designed the customer experience.
- Your company will be known for next-level customer experience.
Share a bold vision with your team. With excellence and passion, what could your team accomplish? Paint a picture of what life would be like for the company, team, and team members if you accomplish this vision.
But what if you fail? Paint a picture of what failure looks like as well. The distance between victory and defeat is what is at stake. Every good story has stakes and your vision needs stakes to be inspiring.
- Make the vision optimistic but attainable
- Make sure that your vision aligns with what company leadership wants the company to accomplish.
Invite the marketing team into that vision.
Next, acknowledge the challenge you’ve presented and that it’s not going to be easy. Nothing is as demotivating as implying that it should be easy.
Also, make it clear that everyone’s contributions are necessary to realize this big, bold vision. Try “it’s going to take all of us at our best.”
Now, invite your team to take part in the vision you’ve just presented. Have you ever seen a heist movie? In any good heist movie, the leader lays out the nearly impossible plan. Then they look around the room and ask…”so, you in?” When team members opt-in (rather than being dragged), they buy-in.
Drive performance with recognition
Lee Cockerell is the retired EVP of Operations at Walt Disney World. He’s also a friend of Team Building Hub and contributes to content on this website! According to Lee, appreciation, recognition, and encouragement are the free fuel that drive human performance. As your team members contribute meaningfully to goals, go out of your way to appreciate, recognize, and encourage. What you recognize, you will multiply on your team.
Don’t wait until you realize your vision fully to celebrate. Celebrate the little wins along the way. Celebrate the “trail markers” that signal that you are on the right path as a team. These little celebrations build belief and momentum.
Celebrating is a taste of victory – it’s addicting and motivating.
And check out Lee Cockerell’s books including my favorite Creating Magic on his website.
Execute alongside your team
Do not present a big, bold vision and then disappear to your office where you’ll spend your days reviewing dashboards. Participate. Your team will be inspired as they see their leader take an active role in accomplishing the vision. While leaders typically can’t spend all of their time executing, make sure the team sees that you work with urgency and passion. It’s an opportunity to set the tone and illustrate how you attack goals and how they should attack goals.
Putting it all together
Marketing leaders – It’s going to be that easy and that difficult. Your success doesn’t come down to having the perfect idea. You don’t need to assemble a team of marketing unicorns. You need to build a team that is culturally aligned, bought-in, that takes their development seriously, and that is coachable. If you lead that kind of team well, your team will win almost every single time, regardless of the circumstances. You’ll beat competitors with bigger budgets and more experience.
Remember – leadership is not something you are born with or without. You can develop these skills.
A message for non-marketers tasked with building a marketing team – Regardless of what you hear at conferences and from other CEO’s, building a great team is not about putting together a wild blend of the most in-demand technical skills. Great teams are developed under great leadership. Start with finding a leader, not a skill set.
For more on marketing leadership, head over to my blog teddycheek.com.