Once a quarter I have a group conversation with several mentors. They mostly are CEOs and CROs at mid-market and enterprise companies. But a recurring discussion that comes up is: what makes a great CMO in B2B. Over the years, I evaluated hundreds of marketing leaders for a company’s c-suite or board of directors There are certainly three traits that I see regularly show up in great marketing leaders.
Trait #1: Great Storytellers
Marketing is storytelling – both internally and externally. And much of marketing leadership is about telling your brand’s, your team’s, and your product’s story. And great marketing leaders are excellent at telling a tale. They naturally engage you and get you emotionally involved quickly to galvanize you to move towards their vision.
As part of great storytelling, they are excellent at painting a picture – or setting a vision. This is done in the way they converse, the way they present ideas or plans, and the way they drive their teams forward. The ability to paint a picture is innate. It’s how they think; how they operate; and how they manage. Vision setting and storytelling go hand-in-hand. It makes you want, then do.
Trait #2: Great Listeners
Conversely, marketing leaders are great listeners. Part of that is simply great leadership, but it is particularly important in marketing. Marketing nowadays is decision making in near real time. And many times without the facts or analytics to fully support a decision. So what do great marketing leaders do in those circumstances? They listen. They listen to the market; their team; their peers; and their competitors, even, to make better decisions.
As a corollary to being great listeners, they are also excellent at building teams. They build great teams by listening and appreciating input from across the organization. They structure their meetings where others talk and they listen. This is especially important in large marketing organizations as the work is executed several layers below them and they need to understand the gotchas. Many great CMOs do listening tours within the marketing organization, across the company and externally, with customers, partners and competitors. It makes for a broader view and knowledge to steer the strategy. When evaluating marketing leadership if touring isn’t part of their rhythm of business; its a red flag and certainly an area for improvement.
Trait #3: Great Experimenters
Also great CMOs are usually willing to take a smart risk. That can be either in creative or brand sphere; or a marketing or business approach. They are willing to step outside the box with a thoughtful sense of experimentation. Marketing is fickle and as such what worked yesterday doesn’t mean it will work tomorrow. While there are fundamentals in marketing, approaches change regularly. And a great marketing leader is willing to test assumptions all the time.
But they experiment thoughtfully. They look at risk and rewards of an initiative. They craft or partner with others to craft a business case. Learn the implications of an experiment. Manage the risks. Minimize the hype. They know marketing is portfolio management – some things fall flat; some knock-it-out-of-the-park. And great marketing leaders know this: the myriad of disciplines under our responsibility set (e.g. ABM, Demand Gen, SEO, etc.) are just tools that need to be orchestrated to deliver the best results. And great marketers are willing to experiment to find the optimal mix for that moment in time.
What are your thoughts on the key traits marketing leaders should have? Share your thoughts on Slack.