As a MarCom pro, you may feel sometimes like you’re the manager at Kinkos, taking orders and running a production shop. But you have a unique opportunity. You sit at the center of your business- customer needs, R&D, corporate strategy and sales. You’re in a position to be a leader not just within your team, but within your company.
On an early episode of my podcast, business consultant (and a cherished mentor to me) Taia Ergueta, said that leadership starts with knowing where people need to go and working backwards from there. This applies to both your company and the customer. To figure out what “they” need you first have to listen. Get to know the people and personalities of all groups involved.
Relationships inside your company
Tom Sellig, Senior Vice President of Global Sales for Patheon focused on the idea of getting to know your organization. Maybe that sounds obvious. But have you spent time hanging out with the R&D team, listening to the sales reps debrief, and asked questions of the financial wizards? Tom said,
“First of all, you have to understand what’s most important to an organization and understanding that, and then understanding your role in helping create that value to the organization. And if you’re delivering at a high level, exceeding objectives year in and year out that’s going to enable that growth.”
Of course, this also positions you personally to grow with the company. Tom again:
“Typically, I look at a role with a two to three year horizon and say…I almost kind of think about, ‘Where do I want to be in two years or in three years from now?’ What do I want to be able to look back and say I was able to achieve, and what will be important to me, and what will be important to executives at my company, and what would be important to people in the industry as a whole.”
It’s a bigger goal than just talking to people for your latest marketing campaign, but it’s worth every minute. To get even more mileage from your internal outreach (is that an oxymoron?), collaborate with teammates to maximize reach and learning capacity. Attend events together and interview stakeholders, then come back and combine perspectives to solve even more problems.
Relationships with customers
The importance of relationships with customers has come up again and again from guests on the podcast.
David Salmon talked about going back to your roots as a scientist:
“You have to start to think in terms in what’s interesting to your audience, think back to when you were in graduate school, think back to when you were in your post-doc.”
This requires the effort of personalization (which can, to a great extent, be accomplished through automation of digital channels). David continued by saying,
“We need to move away from these broadcast generalized conversations about features and benefits of our tools and our platforms and our equipment, and really transform it into a conversation. And this conversation should be relevant not just to the people who are far down the funnel and are about to make a purchase from us, they should also be relevant to the people who are just now engaging with us as a brand.”
Chuck Drucker came at it from a different angle. He said,
“the experience that our customers get through buying our products and services, that’s the biggest driver of customer loyalty. So […] if your sales and marketers aren’t engaged at the beginning of that sort of profit chain, there is no way that you’re going to be able to drive that customer loyalty.”
The point of all of this is “to build their trust so when the time comes for them to make a purchase that you’ve got a product to solve, then you need to be somebody that they trust on a broader range.” Leadership built on trust is especially important as technologies mature. As David pointed out, the natural progression is that research tools eventually become commoditized and differentiation is extremely difficult. At that point, trust becomes even more valuable.
Taia made an additional point to marketers regarding the value of relationships for your business. She suggested that, while releasing new products is a must, additions to your catalogue should not come at the expense of external relationships:
“if you were focusing a lot on product introductions, and spending your money on that versus spending it on continued development of those customer relationships and that industry knowledge, you’d be making a major mistake.”
Leading your team
Develop Standard Processes
Taia brought up another interesting idea for wannabe MarCom leaders. She was speaking in the context of structuring marketing like product development and pointed to the importance of standard operating procedures. In product development, “most companies have a pretty structured process for managing product development.” In MarCom, though, “What you have is projects or worse, tasks.” Everyone is running around, trying to check tasks off the list, so clarity around the big picture is lost. She goes on to say:
“But there’s really no reason to run things that way. You really can get all the same benefits as you have in product development in Marcom and marketing by managing it as a process […] In fact, by doing so, Marcom can actually create a lot of strength and leadership for itself. Any group that actually has a process can in fact then get the organization to buy into that and it keeps them from being in the position of asking for one-off pieces of information or meetings or insights from the team in order to do their project. All of a sudden it’s an established process that is parallel with the product development process. It has legitimacy, and in fact you can actually, in many cases, kind of fold in things into the product development process.”
This is a non-obvious but profound idea. By making the time to create processes and align your team, you can put marketing in the position of having significant influence in the direction of your company. You’re not just pushing out the message that is handed to you, you’re actually partnering up to build the product from which the message will be derived.
Hire people with new ideas
Standardization doesn’t preclude careful experimentation. We all have to evolve with technology and our respective industries. So, always keep an eye out for people or processes or tools that can help you make a useful change. David is a big proponent of this approach. He finds people from outside the life science industry to get the benefits of their alternative perspective:
“As a matter of fact, one of the most recent people that I’ve hired, I hired specifically out of the small high tech sector to bring in-house some expertise in the area of search engine marketing. Somebody who wasn’t . . . I think again, one of the ways that you bring innovation in from another industry is not just watch the industry and see what they do, but hire people out of those industries.”
Try and fail
This isn’t any different than what we’ve been taught since grade school. With experimentation comes the risk of breaking things. Leaders acknowledge this possibility – no, this certainty – and embrace it. Leaders give themselves and their teams permission to make mistakes. If possible, as David recommended, find the cheapest way to fail. He uses the example of digital marketing:
“The great thing about digital is that it is cheap to fail. You can try and fail and try and fail and then try and succeed, and it still won’t cost you as much as making a high-res, high production quality video, or building a brochure.”
But even if you do go all in on a big project and it flops, figure out why and then keep going.
Another lesson from David. Let some things slide. The perfect is the enemy of the good. On the podcast he said, “ I’m a huge believer in sort of 60% to 80%. If you spend all your time trying to get to a 100% strategy or a 100% plan before you start trying stuff, you’re never going to get off the ground […]”
And that’s really what it comes down to. Do something that makes you a little uncomfortable, put yourself out there and be excited to accept the inevitable imperfections. Try for 100%, but embrace the 80%. Exciting things will happen.