Confessions of a Marketer

I have a confession to make. We’re all friends here, so I hope you don’t mind me unburdening myself on such a public forum. OK, here goes…. I don’t know how to break it to you gently so I’ll just come straight out and say it – I DON’T HAVE AN MBA!

Wow – that feels good. It’s not like I didn’t want one, I just didn’t get around to getting one. What with kids and work and stuff, the time just never felt right. Now I know that many of you will have invested your hard earned cash, effort and time in acquiring a Masters in Business Administration, and it may have served you well. It is indeed a fine qualification, and one that demands much of its students. Furthermore, MBAs provide an excellent signal to current and prospective employers that you have the smarts, commitment and determination to get through an incredibly intensive program of study.

Photo by Benjamin Child on Unsplash

Photo by Benjamin Child on Unsplash

And MBA graduates often make excellent leaders, including CMOs (and other senior marketing leaders). But leaders come in all shapes and sizes – care needs to be taken that useful signals do not become prerequisites. Organizations should not assume there’s a single type of person best suited to leadership positions (such as CMOs) in a large corporates. But arguably this is the case, as recently, the type of person assumed best-suited to senior marketing roles have attended a certain school, have achieved a certain level of tenure in a certain type of organization, and have an MBA.

How do I know this? Well as a Gartner analyst, I review many role descriptions for marketing leadership positions, and pretty much all of them stipulate long tenure plus MBA as a core prerequisite. Why is this a bad thing? Well for all the excellent candidates you may attract, you deter others who may also have the capabilities, attributes and acumen to deliver what your business needs – customer value, growth and profitability, but lack those three little letters.

The Attributes of Successful Marketing Organizations

Finding good marketing leaders and CMOs requires you to understand the complex mix of skills material to success. Gartner’s Marketing Organization Capabilities Survey (subscription required) describes the attributes of successful marketing organizations:

  • They need to have strong business acumen
  • They need to be creative, resourceful and adaptable
  • They need to move at speed, adapting to the changing competitive environment
  • They need to be able to harness data, technology and market and customer insights

And most importantly they need to deliver measurable business impact (i.e. revenue, growth and profitability). Leading such an organization requires more than a bundle of knowledge and skills – it requires a diverse set of competencies, for example adaptability, business acumen, customer centricity, decisiveness, openness to learning and data literacy (subscribers, check out “CMO Perspective: Key Traits of Growth-Oriented CMOs”).

Capturing Marketing Leadership Competencies

Competencies are a mixture of skills, knowledge and (importantly) talent. As such, competencies can be honed through experience and learning, but without the underlying talent, they cannot be taught. So fifteen years of marketing leadership experience plus an MBA is a signal – a useful indicator of capability, but it’s no guarantee. Attracting the best talent requires you to look beyond base qualifiers, instead focusing on the personas of candidates that can lead organizations, given your unique situation, considering your resources, your capabilities and your culture.

So, as a current (or aspiring) CMO or marketing leader, how can you demonstrate your capabilities? Or, if you’re hiring for a marketing leader, how can you be sure that you push beyond signals to drill into capabilities? Well we can talk with you about how to conduct a capability-based recruitment process (look out for Lizzy Foo Kune’s upcoming document on the subject), but in the meantime, consider the following:

  • What are the core competencies material to success in the marketing leadership role?
  • How can these competencies best be demonstrated (e.g. if innovation is essential, what are the proof points that can show the delivery of business goals via the application of innovation)?
  • How does the balance of talent, qualifications, training and experience best support the competency?

One Last Confession

In the spirit of openness, I would also like to confess that I do have a post grad qualification in marketing. Did this qualification make me a better marketer? I’m not sure. It probably helped open some doors, but I enjoyed the learning experience, and that’s the most important thing.

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